HealthNovember 06, 2020

Why a “board-certified cosmetic surgeon” isn’t a plastic surgeon, and what that means for you

Many doctors marketing themselves as cosmetic surgeons do procedures beyond the scope of their training

Cosmetic surgery is not just another way of saying plastic surgery. Doctors who advertise themselves as certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) don’t measure up to meet the criteria required for board-certified plastic surgeons.

In a study published in the November issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery®, the official medical journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), Brian C. Drolet, MD, of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., and colleagues reviewed online information to assess residency training history and advertised scope of practice for 342 ABCS-certified physicians. “Our review of ABCS diplomate training backgrounds revealed nearly ten percent of ABCS members were not even trained in a surgical discipline,” the researchers write.

According to the study, over half (62.6%) of ABCS diplomates advertised surgical operations beyond the scope of their ACGME or CODA residency training. Specialties with the highest prevalence of practicing beyond scope of training were internal medicine (n=2, 100%), general surgery (n=69, 95.8%), obstetrics and gynecology (n=17, 85%), otolaryngology (n=65, 59.1%), dermatology (n=16, 51.6%), and oral and maxillofacial surgery (n=30, 50%). 

The most commonly offered out of training scope procedures were liposuction (59.6%), abdominoplasty (50.0%), breast augmentation (49.7%) and buttock augmentation (36.5%).

Procedures considered “out of scope” by specialty:

  • Otolaryngology – Aesthetic surgery below the neck (e.g. breast augmentation, abdominal liposuction, abdominoplasty, buttock augmentation)
  • Ophthalmology – Aesthetic surgery outside of periorbital region (e.g. rhinoplasty, full face lift, neck lift)
  • OB/GYN – Any aesthetic surgery
  • General Surgery – Any aesthetic surgery
  • Dermatology – Surgical procedures not including Mohs surgery or skin lesion
  • OMFS – Any aesthetic surgery below the neck
  • Internal Medicine – Any surgical procedure

“When selecting an aesthetic surgeon, many patients place trust in knowing their surgeon is a ‘board-certified’ plastic surgeon,” Dr. Drolet and coauthors write. “Many patients falsely assume all surgeons must be board-certified in plastic surgery in order to perform cosmetic procedures.”

As the authors write, the unregulated growth of the aesthetic marketplace may make it difficult for patients to find a qualified cosmetic surgeon. Misleading marketing and overtly false advertising are widespread in many large markets. One metric commonly used to select a qualified surgeon is board-certification; however, that distinction has become obfuscated, blurring the lines for patients.

A board-certified plastic surgeon must have at least six years of surgical training, including completion of an accredited plastic surgery training program. They must perform thousands of cosmetic and reconstructive surgery procedures of different types, pass rigorous written and oral examinations, and commit to continuing education and assessment throughout their careers.

However, an ABCS-diplomat is asked to complete only one year of surgical training, experience 300 procedures, and one written and oral examination completed during a single weekend, with no continuing medical education requirements. 

These differences are so pronounced that in 2018 the Medical Board of California concluded ABCS certification is not equivalent to ABMS Board Certification, and that ABCS diplomates cannot advertise themselves as “board-certified.” 

The high demand for cosmetic surgery – 1.8 million procedures performed in 2019, according to ASPS statistics – underscores the need for regulation and education to help patients make informed decisions. ASPS offers patients tips on how to select a board-certified plastic surgeon

Click here to read “Board Certification in Cosmetic Surgery: An Evaluation of Training Backgrounds and Scope of Practice.”

DOI: 10.1097/PRS.0000000000007242

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

About Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

For more than 70 years, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® (http://www.prsjournal.com/) has been the one consistently excellent reference for every specialist who uses plastic surgery techniques or works in conjunction with a plastic surgeon. The official journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® brings subscribers up-to-the-minute reports on the latest techniques and follow-up for all areas of plastic and reconstructive surgery, including breast reconstruction, experimental studies, maxillofacial reconstruction, hand and microsurgery, burn repair and cosmetic surgery, as well as news on medico-legal issues.

About ASPS

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons is the largest organization of board-certified plastic surgeons in the world. Representing more than 7,000 physician members, the society is recognized as a leading authority and information source on cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. ASPS comprises more than 94 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the United States. Founded in 1931, the society represents physicians certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery or The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.

About Wolters Kluwer

Wolters Kluwer (WKL) is a global leader in professional information, software solutions, and services for the health, tax & accounting, governance, risk & compliance, and legal & regulatory sectors. We help our customers make critical decisions every day by providing expert solutions that combine deep domain knowledge with specialized technology and services.

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