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Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.
Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.


Diplomas, Degrees, and Board Certification: Page 2

The plastic surgery boards

There are several boards that certify doctors who perform plastic surgery.  Most plastic surgeons are certified by one or more of the following boards:

  • American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery 

  • American Board of Plastic Surgery 

  • American Board of Otolaryngology

  • American Board of Cosmetic Surgery

Note that not all of the boards have "plastic surgery" or "cosmetic surgery" in their names.  Don't try to memorize the names of these boards; just read along.

Each board develops its own rigorous examinations, and each board stipulates prerequisites of training and experience that the doctor must meet before he may sit for the examinations.

Now take a closer look at that list of four boards above and decide which board you want your plastic surgeon to be certified by.  Correct answer: you can't.  All of these boards certify doctors who perform plastic surgery, and the name of the board doesn't tell you anything about the skill of the doctor.  Even that board with the inscrutable name, otolaryngology: it was one of the first certifying boards, established in 1924, and it decided to keep its original Greek-derived name.  The name is not very recognizable, so from a marketing standpoint the name is just awful -- would you have started your search for a plastic surgeon by looking for a doctor certified by that board?  But some of the world's best plastic surgeons are certified under that board, a good example of why you shouldn't select your doctor by the name of his certifying board.

You will see other boards, too.  For example, ophthalmologists, who are certified by the American Board of Ophthalmology, are trained in surgery around the eyes, and many of them perform cosmetic eyelid surgery.  Some dermatologists, certified by the American Board of Dermatology, perform plastic surgery of the skin, such as liposuction and skin peeling.

How to become an excellent plastic surgeon

So now you know the path that a doctor takes to get trained in plastic surgery and achieve his board certification.  Next, let's look at a different path: how to become an excellent plastic surgeon.

"Wait!" you say.  "Won't the road to board certification always lead to an excellent plastic surgeon?"  No, it emphatically will not, and therein lies this essay's biggest lesson: the fact that the doctor is board certified gives you no guarantee, no assurance, no indication that he is competent to perform the operation that you are requesting.  I understand that runs contrary to everything you have heard about board certification, so let's take a couple minutes to make certain you understand why certification is no guarantee of skill.

In order to become an excellent plastic surgeon, you start out as a bright student.  You have great manual dexterity and an eye for detail.  You read voraciously.  Your surgery teachers are superb; you are able to absorb everything they have to give.  Perhaps you attend a fellowship for a year or two after your residency.  You care more about the quality of your work than the volume of your business.

The board certification test doesn't make you an excellent plastic surgeon.  Of course you'll pass when you sit for the exam, but it's your talent, your interest, your artistic sense, your manual skills, your ability to learn, your ethics, your humanity, and the quality of your teachers that make you an excellent plastic surgeon.

The board certification exam is written and oral, not surgical and technical.  It is conducted in a conference room over the course of a day, not in the operating room over the course of a year.  The exam does not evaluate the quality of the surgery that the doctor performs.  It does not evaluate his surgical judgment in the operating room, his artistic sense, his feel for his tools, his concern for the well-being of his patients.  The exam does not involve an evaluation of his before and after pictures, flunking doctors who perform poorly.  Your doctor's board certification simply is no guarantee of good results.