How Qualified Is Your Plastic Surgeon?

PHOTO: Surgeons performing a procedure in the operating room.

When searching for the best plastic surgeon, most people know to look for a surgeon who is “board certified,” but what they don’t realize is that board certification is a very broad/general qualification. We’re sharing our insider knowledge to help you know what to look for when searching for the best plastic surgeon. 

What does it mean to be board certified?

A “board” is an independent organization that creates standards for the evaluation process of medical specialties. For a physician to become board certified, they must pass a series of thorough oral and written exams about various medical procedures and practices. 

There are numerous boards that issue certifications. Each board focuses on a different type of medicine, from the very broad to the more specialized. Examples include family medicine, dentistry, emergency medicine, dermatology, general surgery, radiology, plastic surgery, and facial plastic surgery. As you can see, just because a doctor or surgeon is board certified doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the most qualified. This is why it is extremely important to delve deeper.

What are they board certified IN?

The risks of bad results and complications increase immensely if you choose an unqualified doctor, so make sure the doctor you choose is board certified in the appropriate area of concern. If you’re having cosmetic surgery on your body, such as a breast augmentation or tummy tuck, you should go to someone who is board certified in the more general “plastic surgery.” If you’re having cosmetic surgery on your face, it is imperative to go to someone who is board certified in the more specialized facial plastic surgery. The two board certifications that focus on facial plastic surgery are: 

  1. ABFPRS: American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
  2. ABO: American Board of Otolaryngology (Head & Neck Surgery)
American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery logo.

To become board certified by the ABFPRS, a surgeon must:

  • Complete residency in one of two surgical specialties (otolaryngology, head and neck surgery or plastic surgery) focusing on facial plastic surgery.
  • Be certified by the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties)
  • Complete a two-day examination by the ABFPRS
  • Complete at least two years of clinical experience that includes a minimum of 100 facial plastic surgery cases
American Board of Otolaryngology logo.

In order to be board certified by the ABO, a physician must:

  • Complete extensive testing (Practical, Oral, and Written Examinations) 
  • Complete required peer evaluations 
  • Complete 5 years of specialty training

Testing and peer evaluations are designed and administrated by specialists in otolaryngologists, experts in head and neck surgery.

What about multiple board certifications?

One board certification in the appropriate area of concentration is great, but more is even better! Board certified doctors voluntarily meet additional standards beyond the usual medical licensing requirements. To maintain a board certification, physicians must participate in ongoing education and assessment, keep up with the latest advancements in their specialty, and demonstrate best practices for patient safety, ethics, and communication. For people undergoing cosmetic surgery on the face, you would want to find a surgeon who is board certified in both ABFPRS and ABO, the two boards that focus on facial plastic surgery. (Psst … Did you know Dr. Yoo is board certified by both ABFPRS and ABO?)

Have they completed a fellowship?

Beyond board certification, you should also consider if they’ve completed any additional formal academic training. Certificates and seminars do not count; we’re talking fellowships. A fellowship is a period of medical training that a physician may undertake after completing their residency. During this time the physician is referred to as a “fellow.” Just like board certifications, it matters what the fellowship training was for. If you are considering undergoing surgery on your face, make sure the fellowship was in facial plastic surgery. (By the way, did we mention that Dr. Yoo completed a prestigious facial plastic surgery fellowship at Stanford University? Stanford only chooses ONE fellow nationwide per year!)

American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery logo.

Are they a member of an American Academy?

Many medical specialties have national membership organizations that are the authority on best practices and the latest advancements. By tradition, these organizations are usually named the “American Academy” of whatever specialty they focus on. For facial plastic surgery, you want to find a surgeon who is a member of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS). Surgeons who are a member of AAFPRS have undergone rigorous training to perform plastic and reconstructive surgery of the face, head, and neck. As a member of the AAFPRS, Dr. Yoo has even trained other doctors on several occasions.

Looking for a plastic surgeon is not something you ever want to take lightly. You want to make sure that the surgeon you choose is the most qualified. This will be someone you will have a relationship with for at least the next year of your life, so take into consideration the personal connection you make with your surgeon as well.