Do your plastic surgery homework—It could save your life


This blog originally appeared on katiecouric.com for her 1/31 show "Dying to be Beautiful: Beauty Trends That Can Prove Lethal". ASPS immediate-past president Dr. Malcolm Z. Roth appeared on the show to educate viewers on how to choose a plastic surgeon.


Almost every day, we see a new story about the most requested celebrity body parts. Last month, U.K. patients favored Kate Middleton's nose. For a few years now, some women have been looking for a fuller backside à la Jennifer Lopez or Kim Kardashian. Rhinoplasty and buttock implants are commonly performed by plastic surgeons, but these procedures have risks and complications that can follow, particularly when they're performed by people with very little or no plastic surgery training.

Dr. Malcolm Z. RothEnter the troubling trend called "pumping", where patients are being illegally injected with industrial-grade silicone and various other non-medical substances to enhance their curves at bargain basement prices by non- doctors. Pumping has tragically resulted in numerous deaths over the past few years and has caused permanent, debilitating damage to many others.

It's important to note that silicone is not approved in the United States for cosmetic injections. There are many safer, better options at a plastic surgeon's disposal. We know that when silicone is injected, it can cause hardening of the surrounding tissues, chronic pain and tenderness, infections, draining wounds and gangrenous changes in the skin, among other complications. Patients who have had complications as a result of underground plastic surgery are often embarrassed, don't have the money to seek out solutions, and if they do finally see a board-certified plastic surgeon, many times it's too late to treat their complications. In addition, the cost to fix the resulting problem is usually much higher than it would have been if they had seen the right person to begin with.

This disturbing trend is one of the many reasons the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) recently launched the Do Your Homework patient safety public education campaign. There is a misconception among consumers that as long as a doctor in a white coat shows up to perform a procedure, that he or she is must be qualified to practice plastic surgery. This is absolutely wrong and it can be dangerous for patients.

The Do Your Homework message is simple: it's legal for anyone to wear a white lab coat and call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, but that doesn't mean they've had the proper training to perform plastic surgery. When a practitioner is not qualified, the results can be deadly. Patients must educate themselves about their doctor's education and training.

A colleague of mine recently summed up underground plastic surgery by saying, "You would never buy a discount parachute because your life could depend upon it. The same can be said for discounted, quick-fix plastic surgery." We want patients to understand what to ask their doctor and what to look for so that they can maximize their chance of a safe and successful outcome.

Luckily, there's a simple tool that does the research for you. The ASPS Find-a-Surgeon tool allows consumers to search for a board certified plastic surgeon in their area, or type in a doctor's name to see if they are a member of ASPS. Everyone that appears in the ASPS Find-a-Surgeon search results is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, has completed at least six years of surgical training with a minimum of three years in plastic surgery, operates only in accredited medical facilities, fulfills continuing medical education requirements and adheres to a strict code of ethics.

Here are some tips for validating your doctor's qualifications to ensure you have the safest plastic surgery experience possible:

• Ask if your doctor is board certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
• If your doctor says "I'm board certified", ask him or her "in what specialty?" The doctor should be board certified in plastic surgery, not board certified in some other specialty as they may have only taken what amounts to weekend courses to do plastic surgery procedures.
• Look for a certificate in the doctor's office that includes the seal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
• If you have any doubts about their certification go to plasticsurgery.org and click on "Find a Surgeon" to see if your doctor appears in the search results.

Filed Under | Patient Safety