Choosing Your Cosmetic Surgeon

Trends in cosmetic surgery
Looks are important to most people. Make-up and clothes often define who we are. Many people choose to go to even greater lengths to improve their appearance -- cosmetic surgery. The trend is especially notable in baby boomers.

Cosmetic surgery has long been a domain of women patients. However, more men are now getting into the act. The Plastic Surgery Information Service says that men are having cosmetic surgery to keep their youthful appearance and increase their competitive edge in the workplace.

Choosing a cosmetic surgeon
Finding a good cosmetic surgeon takes some detective work. Ask for recommendations from family doctors or friends and relatives. Make sure the surgeon is trained and certified.

Once you have chosen a surgeon, take time to talk with him or her. Find out how many of your procedures he or she has performed (generally, more procedures mean greater experience and a better outcome), what you can expect from the procedure and what to expect after the surgery. Be prepared to talk about paying or financing the surgery since cosmetic procedures are not usually covered by health insurance.

A facelift is a cosmetic operation so you want to find a surgeon who specializes in cosmetic surgery. Cosmetic surgery is defined as surgery that improves appearance or restores youth. The American Medical Association recently recognized the subspecialty of cosmetic surgery. Surgeons from various primary specialties practice cosmetic surgery. They devote their focus to the art of improving appearance. No university, as of yet, has a department devoted to cosmetic surgery.

Therefore, various aspects are taught under different disciplines: plastic surgery; ear, nose and throat surgery; oral and maxillofacial surgery; dermatology.

To obtain certification in cosmetic surgery, a surgeon must first be board certified in a primary specialty, obtain additional post-graduate training of one to two years, submit at least 100 cases in which they were the primary surgeon, and pass vigorous written and oral examinations. Certification in one's primary specialty is simply a prerequisite to obtaining certification in cosmetic surgery.

Staff privileges
Your surgeon should have staff privileges at a local hospital. Because hospital costs are so high, most cosmetic surgery is performed in an outpatient setting. However, if complications arise, you want the doctor to be able to admit you to a hospital, not just send you to the emergency room.

The surgeon should have a good local reputation. Have they been in the community for a length of time? Have they moved frequently, or do they practice in several locations? Successful surgeons usually practice in one location but may have additional offices across town for consultations.

Does your surgeon teach? The best doctors are involved in continuing education both as a student and as a teacher. Technology constantly changes and innovative new procedures cause changes in approach. If your surgeon does not participate in those changes, are they keeping current? If your surgeon's recommendations are not thoroughly explained or if they do not feel right to you, go elsewhere.

Once you have selected a surgeon check with the California Medical Board to access your surgeon's record.

Facility certification
Where does the surgeon operate? Various groups certify operating facilities. More safety equipment is required to gain the higher certification. State licensure is equivalent to that of the hospital outpatient surgery center. Do not be afraid to ask to see their paperwork. Minimum certification may not be enough. The Accreditation Association of Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC) certifies outpatient facilities and helps physicians deliver high-quality patient care.

Questions to ask
Ask how many similar operations you surgeon has performed and how many he or she has performed in the past year.

Ask to see before and after photos. Look for photos of people of similar age and with facial shapes similar to yours. Most cosmetic surgeons have computer imagers.

Ask to have them show you what you can expect to look like after your surgery and discuss various options. Remember, a facelift is not just one operation, but a series of procedures individually grouped to provide a customized facelift.

Ask about and discuss various options available to achieve your desired outcome. Often, there may be several techniques available to achieve improvements in your appearance, Your surgeon should discuss various options, what each can achieve, recovery time and their corresponding recommendations.

If there is any part of an explanation that you do not understand, stop the conversation and ask for clarification.

Ask about the anesthetic options for your chosen procedures and who will administer the anesthetic. Does your surgeon use a trained anesthesiologist or nurse anesthetist? This is best. Anesthesia administered by the surgeon himself or his office nurse is less safe.

After all this investigation, do you feel comfortable with the surgeon and his office staff? Will they respond to your needs both before and after surgery? Do you feel at ease?

If you wish to visit several surgeons, check with the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery for a list of their fellows in your area.