How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon


Many consumers are utterly baffled when it comes to board certification. They confuse it with state licensing. Others think the American Medical Association certifies plastic surgeons. Some consumers have a vague idea that surgeons specialize after receiving their medical degrees, but have no idea how this training differs from that received by those who call themselves cosmetic surgeons.

A doctor of medicine, or M.D., degree is given at graduation from an accredited medical school. Once an M.D. degree is achieved, a license must be obtained from the state where a physician desires to practice. This state license allows an M.D. to practice in any specialty whatsoever, regardless of training beyond the M.D. degree. After receiving a medical degree, most physicians enroll in a residency program, which gives them expertise in a particular area. Following this training, they can take another examination given by a medical specialty board (called “boards”) and become certified in that particular specialty. So, a medical degree, a state license, and board certification are three different qualifications.

Currently, any licensed physician is legally allowed to perform cosmetic surgery procedures. In fact, if you have M.D. after your name you can even do brain surgery, whether you have any surgical training or not. Scary, isn’t it?

What would prevent a physician from doing this? Well, some insurance companies won’t allow a surgeon to be on their rosters unless they’re board certified. Hospitals restrict privileges unless appropriate training can be documented. A lot of cosmetic surgery is done in private offices or in surgery centers. So people can call themselves “cosmetic surgeons” without hospital privileges and credibility in the professional community.  Be absolutely sure the surgeon you choose has admitting privileges at the local hospital(s) for the surgery you are considering.

You might assume that certain medical specialists are automatically trained in cosmetic surgery procedures, but this isn’t necessarily the case. Only a few specialties train surgeons and certify them in that field.  One is plastic surgery which requires completion of medical school, achievement of an M.D. degree, postgraduate formal residency in surgery and plastic and reconstructive surgery.  Plastic surgeons are trained in plastic surgery of the entire body.  Patients have a right to know the full nature and extent of their doctor’s formal training. Consumers can choose whatever kind of physician they wish, but they should be given the information needed to make an informed choice.


The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) certifies plastic surgeons. The ABPS is approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. ABPS’s primary purpose is to evaluate and pass judgment on the training and knowledge of broadly competent plastic surgeons. The ABPS is part of The American Board of Medical Specialties; a not-for-profit organization that oversees 24 approved medical specialty boards in setting standards and improving healthcare quality through board certification. As a consumer, your best choice is a surgeon who is board certified by the above board, with a particular interest in the surgery you are contemplating.