Does My Plastic Surgeon Have The Proper Training?

Rebecca Kuehn, R.N.

The whole board-certification process- who has it, who doesn’t- and what that really means, can get very confusing. I want to simplify it to give patients a better opportunity to make a truly informed decision before choosing a plastic surgeon.

It all started in 1933, when the American Board of Medical Specialties was created. This board wanted to set the “gold-standard of care” among physicians and allow them to proclaim a specialty only after he or she had completed the necessary training to qualify for that board. Currently, there are 24 member boards that are recognized by the ABMS. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is one of those.

For a doctor to qualify for membership into the American Board of Plastic Surgery, they must complete a rigorous training program. The candidate first graduates an accredited medical school in good standing. Then, he or she must complete a minimum number of 3 years residency in general surgery. Once the candidate finishes residency, they must be accepted into a 3 year plastic surgery specific training program that is approved by the ABPS. Upon successful completion of that program, the doctor must take strict oral and written exams to end his or her schooling.

In the state of Oklahoma, once you graduate medical school, you are a medical doctor (M.D.). There are no regulations about what type of medicine you can practice. What does this mean for the patient? An M.D. can be in family practice, emergency medicine, gynecology, even anesthesia- and still choose to perform plastic surgery, without the proper training. A physician can still be “board-certified” and not be board-certified in PLASTIC SURGERY. See the problem? If the patient did not know how to ask what board they are a member of, they could be misled to believe that physician went through training that he if fact did not.

A fact that many patients aren’t aware of is there is a difference between being boarded by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Information of the upmost importance begins with the fact that the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery is not recognized by the American Medical Association or ABMS and does not have the regulations or standards the ABPS must uphold.

Coming straight from their website (

“Cosmetic surgery is practiced by doctors from a variety of medical fields including dermatologists, facial plastic surgeons, general surgeons, gynecologists, oral and maxillofacial surgeons, ophthalmologists, otolaryngologists, plastic surgeons, as well as doctors from other fields. There are currently no residency programs in the United States devoted exclusively to cosmetic surgery. ”

It is very important to take the time and ask your doctors about their training. Make sure to look at many before and after photos of their work. Read reviews and get references from previous patients before choosing someone to alter your body.

Plastic surgery can be a wonderful, rewarding experience in the right hands!