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11 Questions to Ask Your Plastic Surgeon

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Updated June 23, 2014

Cosmetic surgery. Consultant examining the face of a young woman contemplating cosmetic surgery.
Adam Gault/Science Photo Library/Getty Images

As you begin researching to determine who you will choose as your plastic surgeon, you probably already have many questions. Or perhaps you have no idea of where to start, or what exactly you should ask. Many people are intimidated by the prospect of questioning authority, and who is more of an authority figure than a plastic surgeon? After all, your surgeon is the person who could potentially hold your life (not to mention your looks) in his or her hands.

There are many things to consider when making such an important decision. You want to know as much as possible about your prospective surgeon’s skills, experience, and credentials. So, without further ado, here is my list of the top ten questions you must ask a prospective plastic surgeon before deciding who is the right choice to perform your procedure:

1.) Are you Board Certified?

You may ask, what exactly does it mean to be a board certified plastic surgeon? The truth is, there are several certifying boards for plastic surgeons, as well as surgical societies of which any given surgeon may be a member. However, there is a gold standard in the field: The American Board of Plastic Surgery. Certification by this organization indicates that a surgeon has completed extensive specialized training that not only shows his superior knowledge and experience, but also speaks of his commitment to excellence in the field. Ask the question. Then verify the answer by checking with the ABPS online at www.abplsurg.org. Please keep in mind, though, that there other certifying boards and medical societies, and many other factors to consider.

2.) How many times have you done this procedure?

It seems obvious that nobody would want to be any surgeon’s first nose job. Beyond that, most people probably wouldn’t even want to be one of the first fifty patients Dr. X uses to perfect his technique. Personally, I want a surgeon who has worked out all the kinks in his previous 200 times performing the procedure. Yet so many people don’t think to ask this question, either because they are embarrassed, don’t want to be rude, or are simply uncomfortable at the very thought of questioning a doctor about his experience. Better rude, embarrassed, and uncomfortable than disfigured…or worse.

3.) What other medical staff will assist with the procedure?

It is important to know who is a part of the surgeon’s surgical support team, and what their qualifications are. Who will be assisting? Who will be administering and monitoring anesthesia? Is there emergency staff available in case of a problem? If the procedure is being performed at a teaching hospital, will there be any medical students or interns involved in your care?

4.) Where will the procedure be performed?

Some procedures are performed in a hospital, others in an outpatient ambulatory center, and still others are routinely performed as in-office procedures. The complexity of your procedure, as well as any health issues specific to your case (your age, overall health, etc.), should always be considered when determining where it would be best for your surgery to take place. Hospitals are usually more expensive venues for any surgery, but can you really put a price on your safety?

5.) Do you have hospital privileges to perform this procedure? (and at which hospitals?)

Even if your procedure is typically done outside of a hospital, it is worth it to ask your surgeon if he or she has hospital privileges to perform the procedure. Hospitals usually have stringent requirements regarding surgeon training and safety records before they will grant operating privileges. Plus, this could become very important if anything unexpected should occur during your procedure, and you were to need to be transported to a hospital.

6.) What type of anesthesia will be used during the procedure?

The biggest risk is from general anesthesia, and this type of anesthesia requires highly trained specialists to administer and monitor its effects on the patient. IV sedation (sometimes called “twilight sleep”) is a bit safer and usually less expensive option---one which can be utilized for many single-procedure surgeries. The safest option is usually local anesthetic, and this may be recommended if the surgeon will have any reason to need to communicate with you during the surgery. However, many procedures are not possible or advisable with only local anesthetic.

7.) What are the risks associated with this procedure?

Every surgery carries some risk, some of which are common to all surgery. The most serious risks usually have to do with excessive blood loss, infection, or adverse reactions to general anesthesia, and the result of any of these can be as serious as death. Other risks vary widely from patient to patient and from one procedure to another. There are some procedures that are riskier than others, although recent advances continue to make complications more and more unlikely. The truth is that since plastic surgery is elective, surgeons will usually refuse to operate on any patient for whom they feel the risk is too great. Therefore, serious complications with plastic surgery are actually relatively rare.

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