As you determine the type of cosmetic surgery you want and begin to book consultation appointments, you may be wondering if you need to see a specialist or if a general plastic surgeon would be the right fit for your procedure. We’ve asked the experts to share the differences between general and more-focused surgeons, when to see a specialist and when to seek out referrals.
Differences Between Specialty and General Surgeons
While there’s no such thing as a plastic surgeon that has just been trained to do one procedure, some have more focused practices than others, says Jack Fisher, MD, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and associate clinical professor of plastic surgery at Vanderbilt University. All plastic surgeons are well-trained and capable of performing multiple procedures well, he says, but there are groups of surgeons that have certain focuses and can deal with specific issues.
These specialists will have more experience and more training in a specific area of treatment and its unique complications, says Robert M. Schwarcz, MD and FACS. Surgeons with focused areas of expertise will do specialty training and fellowships in that area of work and, in many cases, will have more experience performing those surgeries. While many general surgeons are excellent at performing the same procedures as a specialist, Dr. Schwarcz says that the sheer volume of cases to a specific area — say, a person’s face — may make them more adept at handling that procedure.
In addition to experience, specialized surgeons may have more technology and tools at their disposal that help them perform procedures within their expertise.
“Sometimes it’s not only the doctor’s expertise, but the access to technology that another doctor has invested in,” Dr. Fisher says. “If a doctor doesn’t do a procedure enough, they may not invest in a certain technology for that procedure … I have some colleagues with just about every laser out there, and I’ll refer to them [for certain treatments].”
When to See a Specialist for Plastic Surgery
If a patient experienced complications from a surgery or is less than satisfied with her results, a specialist should be called on to make the desired corrections.
“If a person has a variant of something normal, they should see a specialist,” Schwarcz says. “They’re going to be more adept at avoiding complications and may know the newest techniques because it is a surgery that they’re always working with.”
Surgeons will often refer patients to other surgeons who have built their practices around specializing on certain procedures and, at times, will work together on a patient.
“I’ve been in the situation where I’ve done someone’s eyelids and another surgeon has done their tummy tuck,” Schwarcz says. “That’s a smart way to go because you have someone specializing in a particular procedure doing the surgery, and there’s also less surgeon fatigue.”
Asking Your Doctor for Specialist Referrals
You should always feel comfortable talking to your doctor about referrals. Ask about his experience and expertise regarding the procedure you want, especially if the surgery has multiple ways of execution.
“I’m glad to refer my patients to colleagues because I know they’re focused on a certain area and are going to give [the patient] excellent care,” Fisher says. “We do referrals based on our clinical experience, the people we know and the people that have a certain expertise. It’s important to me that the patient gets outstanding care because my reputation is on the line.”
Do Your Homework
It’s not always necessary to go to a specialist, but it is important to do your homework and be educated about the procedure you’re looking to have done and the surgeon you’d like to do it. Talk to your surgeon about how often they do the procedure you’re looking to have done and discuss the different options you have before going into surgery.
Discussing referrals or recommendations with other patients of similar procedures is also important, Fisher says. While online research can be a powerful tool to keep you informed, the best way to find out which doctor you’re going to be happy with is to talk to people who have seen and had success with him. Finding someone who, by word of mouth, has a good reputation will allow you to feel comfortable with him from the get-go.