When seeking a plastic surgeon, many patients think they’re doing their due diligence by looking for all the right qualities: an excellent portfolio, a fair price and good patient reviews. But many patients take one very important piece of information for granted: board certification.
Board certification is a rigorous set of standards set forth by a governing board of specialists to help ensure a practitioner is qualified to perform the procedures in their line of work. For plastic surgeons, there are several different governing boards by which doctors can be certified. Holding a certification by one or more of these boards means the specialist is well trained in areas covered by that board. But many patients are opting to undergo plastic surgery procedures with doctors who aren’t board certified in plastic surgery at all, and it’s causing a lot of problems. Recently, a Florida woman died during a Brazilian butt-lift procedure at the hands of a practitioner who did not have board certification in plastic surgery.
“Unfortunately, it’s not just isolated to Florida, or even the United States,” says Dr. Bruce Chau, a board-certified plastic surgeon from Berkeley, Michigan. “We are hearing more and more cases of uncertified practitioners performing plastic surgery procedures on patients they have no right working on.”
Chau says he’s heard of everyone from dentists to hair stylists offering cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures to clients.
“Legally, any licensed doctor can perform plastic surgery on a patient,” Chau says. “But that doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing, or that he’s ever done it before.”
Perhaps that’s why many of these so-called plastic surgeons can offer such deep discounts over board-certified plastic surgeons, because, as Chau puts it, “Essentially, you’re their guinea pig.”
So, what can be done to remedy this rash of unqualified surgeons offering complicated procedures to patients?
“The medical community needs to put pressure on lawmakers, but civic-minded citizens should speak up, too,” says Chau. “Contact your local board of health or your local plastic surgery board. They should have ways you can get involved.”
In the meantime, Chau says if you are considering plastic surgery but aren’t sure if your surgeon is board certified, don’t be afraid to ask your surgeon or the practice staff directly. Then be sure to check the board’s website and verify if the certification is active. If your surgeon comes up as “board eligible,” Chau advises you to do a little bit more digging, as this typically means that your surgeon qualifies for certification but is not yet certified.
“This could be for something as simple as a pending certification, but it could also mean that the practitioner was unable to pass the board exam. If you need more information, give the board a call for clarification,” says Chau. “It could save your life.”