We all count on doctors to take care of us in times of need. Luckily, we can find a specialist out there to take care of just about any problem that we might have. Each specialist has a specific name which indicates what they are trained to do. These names have very specific meanings. If our eye hurts, we go to an ophthalmologist. If we have a sinus problem, we go to an otolaryngologist or ENT surgeon. And if we have to get a pap smear, we go to a gynecologist. I trained to be a plastic surgeon. After medical school, I spent an additional 8 intense years training toward this goal. I then had to take several grueling examinations to become a board certified plastic surgeon in New Jersey. The American Board of Plastic Surgery website defines plastic surgery as follows:
“Plastic surgery deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, craniomaxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, external genitalia or cosmetic enhancement of these areas of the body. Cosmetic surgery is an essential component of plastic surgery. The plastic surgeon uses cosmetic surgical principles both to improve overall appearance and to optimize the outcome of reconstructive procedures.”
As a board certified plastic surgeon, I am capable of doing all of the above but have chosen to specialize in the cosmetic aspects of plastic surgery and have been performing cosmetic surgery in New Jersey for about ten years. In order to make all the above clear to my patients, I call myself a plastic surgeon. Anyone who comes to see me knows exactly what to expect and what I have been trained to do. This all seems pretty obvious and I have never imagined calling myself anything else.
However, I have just found out that I have many other titles that I could be using that I was unaware of. I just found out that I’m also a cosmetic gynecologist since I perform many labiaplasty procedures. I am also a cosmetic ophthalmologist because I perform upper and lower eyelid surgery. I’m an otolaryngologist/ENT because I perform rhinoplasty and I’m a dermatologist because I perform laser skin resurfacing. I’m even an oral surgeon since I perform buccal fat removal through the mouth. All these titles would look quite impressive on my business card (if they fit) but would be untrue. They would also be quite confusing and would only mislead my patients. I would never imagine doing this.
Plastic surgery overlaps with many specialties as we work all over the body. However, just because I perform labiaplasty doesn’t give me the right to call myself a gynecologist with the implication that I have the same training as a gynecologist. Just because I perform otoplasty doesn’t justify my calling myself an otolaryngologist/ENT with their required specialized training. And, just because I remove skin cancer doesn’t make me a dermatologist with their special training. All the above procedures are part of being a plastic surgeon and just happen to overlap with other specialties. My training is in plastic surgery. Calling myself anything but a plastic surgeon would be inappropriate and would only serve to mislead my patients.
So, why do so many non-plastic surgeons choose to call themselves plastic surgeons simply because they perform a procedure that happens to overlap with what a plastic surgeon does? Why do otolaryngologist/ENT surgeons who perform rhinoplasty call themselves facial plastic surgeons and not cosmetic otolaryngologists? Why do ophthalmologists who perform cosmetic eyelid surgery call themselves oculo-plastic surgeons and not cosmetic ophthalmologists? Why have they created “Boards” like the American Board of Facial Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery that are not approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties that make them sound even more like plastic surgeons. Clearly, these specialists are not plastic surgeons, do not have the same training as plastic surgeons, and are not board certified in plastic surgery. By calling themselves “plastic surgeons”, they are only misleading patients and making it difficult for patients to make an informed and educated choice of surgeon. This violates one of the most fundamental tenets of a doctor-patient relationship – trust.
How can you educate and protect yourself as a patient? If you are looking for a plastic surgeon, there are several websites that list plastic surgeons who have met the training and testing requirements to be a board certified plastic surgeon. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is the only plastic surgery board approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The American Board of Plastic Surgery website will confirm if a surgeon is certified in plastic surgery and not another specialty. Members of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery are board certified plastic surgeons who specialize in cosmetic plastic surgery of the face, breasts and body. If you are looking for a plastic surgeon, check these websites. Don’t settle. Make sure your surgeon trained at the top institutions and make sure you’re comfortable with them in person. In today’s confusing environment, taking the time to educate yourself is critical. Don’t forget – not just anyone should be calling them self a plastic surgeon.