Choosing a Plastic Surgeon: Why Should You Choose Dr. Stephens for Your Procedure?
Once you decide to have an elective, “cosmetic,” plastic surgery procedure, there becomes the difficult decision of finding the best and most highly qualified board-certified plastic surgeon. Ultimately, it is 100 percent up to you as the consumer, and it is critical to do your research.
And with so many “board certifications” out there, it is very confusing to know which doctors are legitimate plastic surgeons.
It may come as a surprise to you, but that plastic surgeon’s office or website you visited may not be a plastic surgeon at all! It surprises many that there is no regulation for board certification in most state’s licensing laws.
Likewise, Google and other search engine algorithms do not require verification of a doctor’s qualifications.
In your search, you will see many professional websites that describe the doctor as “award winning” or “top,” but by which group? Did their patients rate them? Was it their peers? Or was it a local magazine or TV station through voting? Was it Google or Yelp? The information contained in these may not even be accurate and trustworthy? There are “self-described boards,” such as the “Board of Cosmetic Surgery,” that allow any doctor to become members, regardless of their credentials. This includes oral surgeons, Ob-Gyns, ER physicians, anesthesiologists, dermatologists, primary care doctors, internists, radiologists, and pediatricians.
Unfortunately, in the area of cosmetic surgery in the State of Washington, there are no regulations or restrictions regarding physician and practitioner qualifications to perform cosmetic surgery procedures. In California, by contrast, a doctor or practitioner is required to represent their qualifications according to national residency accreditation standards by stating their residency training and specialty certification as clearly defined by the ACGME (see below).
Any “cosmetic” practice or medispa can find talented designers and companies that produce beautiful websites and assist them with marketing strategies with no reluctance to use the term “plastic surgeon” or “cosmetic surgeon.” And they can do this because there are no regulations to prevent it. The FTC doesn’t care to distinguish the differences between specialty training and qualifications; its broadly defined mandate is about free, unrestricted trade. Federal law leaves it up to the individual states to decide to pass laws and regulations that safeguard the public. In Washington State, there is no way to identify deceptive advertising practices unless you dig deeper.
Marketers and practitioners are very sophisticated, deliberately hiding or deflecting the lack of qualifications and board certifications of the practice (ever wonder why the doctors’ qualifications and training are not found on the website?). And the internet and social media make everyone out to be an expert! There are “expert injectors,” expert “aesthetic medicine” specialists, and “expert liposuction practices.” Recently, there are even “experts’” who remove breast implants! Really? What makes them experts?
Illegitimate, “self-named-boards” exaggerate qualifications, certifications, and training. A doctor (or another medical practitioner) may have completed a weekend course about a procedure, and, yet, they advertise it. Doctors are moving out of primary care and other areas of medicine in large numbers, and they will pay groups for training with someone for a few months, watching someone do a procedure who may, in turn, also be inadequately trained.
If you don’t know the difference of what to look for in a qualified plastic surgeon, then these individuals would impress as the most highly qualified and respected individuals in the industry (some have the chutzpah and tout that they have international reputations even)! Unfortunately, their patients suffer the consequences and complications of poorly executed procedures, resulting in deformities and unfixable results!
Even within some specialties, such as dermatology—“dermatologic surgeons,” as they call themselves because they have some training in minor surgical procedures, such as removing skin cancers and closing the skin—will do very poorly executed facelifts and other types of cosmetic surgery, such as liposuction, under the guise of being, “board-certified cosmetic surgeons,” even though they have no plastic surgical residency training!
Oral surgeons call themselves “plastic, facial plastic, or cosmetic surgeons.”
“Facial plastic surgeons,” whose training is in the head and neck area, call themselves plastic or cosmetic surgeons and do breast implants and lifts as well as tummy tuck surgery and procedures throughout the body. These doctors are practicing out of their core specialty training—the area they are trained for in their residency, fellowships, and subspecialty training. It’s the stuff of smoke and mirrors.
So What Is the Difference With a Board-Certified Plastic Surgeon?
A board-certified plastic surgeon is certified by the only legitimate physician and surgeon accrediting body in America: the ACGME (American College of Graduate Medical Education), which certifies all medical specialties in the US.
The ACGME alone has the sole authority to accredit all licensed residencies in the US, such as neurosurgery, orthopedics, Ob-Gyn, cardiology, emergency medicine, rheumatology, vascular surgery, pediatrics, and—you get the idea—plastic surgery! The “self-named,” “board-certified,” “cosmetic surgeon” is deliberately deceiving the public into thinking that they are extensively trained in the cosmetic surgery area of plastic surgery and have additional qualifications in aesthetic plastic surgery. Some states use “plastic surgeon” and “cosmetic surgeon” interchangeably, but the two groups are very far apart in expertise, standards of training requirements, and ethics.
Knowing this difference is critical when considering a cosmetic procedure as you want to choose the surgeon who has the highest and most comprehensive training and experience! You wouldn’t want an obstetrician or anesthesiologist to do your facelift or tummy tuck any more than you would want them to perform your heart surgery, would you? Would you have your house painter write your will for you?
In medicine, plastic surgery residency is considered one of the most highly sought after of all the surgical specialties. To become an ACGME Board Certified Plastic Surgeon, you must:
1) Be at the top of your medical class to be accepted to a plastic surgery residency for training.
2) You then must undergo a minimum of three years of general surgery residency and three years of a plastic surgery residency in all the subspecialties of plastic surgery, including aesthetic surgery.
3) You must pass yearly exams and demonstrate surgical competence in plastic surgery to be recommended for advancement by the training program director under the oversight of the Board of Plastic Surgery, a part of the ACGME. The Board of Plastic Surgery performs on-site audits and evaluations and oversees the quality and breadth of training of all of the ACGME Certified Plastic Surgery Training Programs.
4) Once completing the residency, you must be recommended by the program director for Board Eligibility and:
- a) Pass a comprehensive written exam
- b) Submit one year’s worth of consecutive surgical patients cases to the Board of Plastic Surgery to review for any ethical issues
- c) Take an oral exam where you are examined about your surgical knowledge, judgment, and skill, and submit random cases for review by the examiners!
- d) In addition, one can be sanctioned, lose board-certification status, or be asked to leave the Plastic Surgery Societies if they practice outside of the ethical standards of the Plastic Surgery Societies’ bylaws.
The so-called “board-certified cosmetic surgeon” does not undergo anything remotely close to this rigorous selection process. This is because the Board and Society of Cosmetic Surgeons allows virtually anyone to apply for their board exam—including many doctors who have had minimal surgical and aesthetics training. The individuals and groups who train these doctors are not members of the ACGME. They don’t have the oversight and rigorous standards of the ACGME boards, meaning they are outside of the medical residency training umbrella.
So, to do your homework, you should ask the following questions:
- Are you a board-certified plastic surgeon? This is the first and most important question you should ask while selecting your consultation list.
- Do you have privileges for plastic surgery at a hospital (hospitals require that doctors have privileges consistent with their residency training, fellowships, subspecialties, and unique training)?
- Have you been sanctioned or had any disciplinary action from the State of Washington Department of Health or another state?
- Do you have malpractice insurance? Have you ever been sued for medical malpractice?
- Are you a current member in good standing of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons? Have you ever been disciplined or sanctioned by these societies?
- What are the areas of your expertise, and how many of these procedures do you do a year? What are the risks of complications?
What About Other “Core” Aesthetic Surgeons, Such as Facial Plastic Surgeons and Oculoplastic Surgeons? Finding the Right Surgeon
What about when they practice outside of their core training?
Following their residency training, ENT doctors can undertake an ACGME approved fellowship in plastic surgery of the head and neck, including nose surgery, reconstruction for head and neck cancer, facelifts, and other facial plastic surgery procedures. Ophthalmologists interested in eyelid surgery can do an additional ACGME-approved oculoplastic surgery fellowship of the eyelids and the area around the eye. They are called board-certified facial plastic surgeons and oculoplastic surgeons.
The problem is that when facial plastic surgeons or oculoplastic surgeons practice outside of their core area of expertise, they attempt plastic surgical procedures in areas where they haven’t been formally trained. Oral surgeons whose background is from dentistry are performing cosmetic procedures of the face and body where they have minimal exposure, training, and experience. And who is training these people—not the elite ACGME Board Certified Plastic Surgeons! Oral surgeons now call themselves members of the Non-ACGME Association of Facial Plastic Surgery.
So Why Choose Dr. Stephens?
“You’re only a success at the moment you perform a successful act!” Coach Phil Jackson from the Chicago Bulls with Michael Jordan
Perhaps you watched the Netflix Series, “The Last Dance,” about the Chicago Bulls’ amazing and unprecedented run of six championships in eight years, ending in 1998, during the glory years of the NBA. The “Last Dance” follows the team through their final NBA championship season and follows the history of the team and players’ greatness in capping off three consecutive years as NBA champs and setting the record for the most championships by any NBA team. Of course, there’s the star, the amazing, unworldly-talented and driven, Michael, “Air” Jordan with his superman’s work ethic whose moves seem to defy the laws of physics. Michael Jordan is not just the world’s most talented basketball player but also was relentless in his drive to be the best of the best.
In the series, Phil Jackson, their “Zen,” “Yoda-Master” coach, is quoted here:
“You’re only a success at the moment you perform a successful act.”
In keeping with this philosophy, Dr. Stephens is always driven to do his best work and improve his craft with every surgery he does.
He likes to say, “You are only as good as your last procedure.” Board certification credentials qualify the important essence of an individual’s training. Still, they do not separate the best from the good much like the more average NBA player (they are all pretty amazing, to be honest, but you get the point).
Honing his craft to be the best, continually learning new techniques, and investigating new technologies, Dr. Stephens utilizes his best techniques and experience.