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wasperformed FacialSurgery.com
Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.
Steven M. Denenberg, M.D.


Diplomas, Degrees, and Board Certification: Page 3

History lesson

"But if board certification is no indication of excellence," you ask, "why are we so consistently admonished to make sure our doctor is board certified?"  Those of you over the age of 45 will remember that we never used to think about checking whether our doctors were board certified.  Why now?

The pervasive admonishments about checking board certification are the lingering after-effects of a failed public relations effort.  One national group of plastic surgeons, in an attempt to gain business for its members, launched a massive public relations campaign to convince you that just the possession of their board certification diploma implied surgical excellence.

However, the plan backfired.  The public didn't remember the entire message:

"Make sure your doctor is board certified only by our board, the XYZ Board of Cosmetic Plastic Surgeons."

The public only remembered part of the message:

"Make sure your doctor is board certified."

So the campaign failed to direct people toward doctors certified by that one board.  However, the public relations campaign was extensive; its message was repeated in every media article.  As a result, the public did remember the abbreviated message about making sure that the doctor is board certified.  So now everyone asks about board certification, every magazine article stresses it, and nobody has a realistic understanding of what it means (except you, of course).

The Academies, Societies, and Colleges

You are reading the diplomas on the wall of your plastic surgeon's consultation room, and you see that he is a member of the "American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery."  Academy?  You've heard of the boards, but....  Is the academy where he went to train?

The academies and societies are organizations formed by the doctors so that they can get together to discuss and promote their mutual interests.  The societies and academies provide educational meetings and courses, address socioeconomic and legislative issues affecting their members, and maintain pubic relations programs.

The three groups you will see mentioned most often are

  • the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery,

  • the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, and

  • the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. 

You are a "member" of a society, and you are "board certified" by a board.  Some societies and academies call their doctors "fellows" instead of "members."  Dozens of these organizations exist, and your doctor's consultation room wall may be tiled with their diplomas.  Browse through your community's telephone Yellow Pages under the heading of plastic surgery: some of the advertisements will have long lists of the organizations to which the doctor belongs.

These academic/political societies do not give examinations, and they do not grant board certification.  Membership does not imply excellence in the operating room.  It's nice for the doctor to tell you that he is a member of and supports his national academies, but it doesn't give you any reassurance that your surgery will come out well.

The American Medical Association, or the "AMA," as you'll hear it called, is the largest association of doctors of all different specialties.  The AMA, in its own words, "promotes the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health,"  but membership in the AMA, like membership in the professional societies is no indication of your doctor's skill.

Here's something else you'll see frequently: the letters "F.A.C.S." after the doctor's name, like this:

John Smith, M.D., F.A.C.S.

F.A.C.S. stands for "Fellow of the American College of Surgeons."  The American College of Surgeons (ACS) is not a college like Harvard or the University of Michigan; itís an organization of surgeons very much like the societies and academies mentioned above, but the ACS is older than any of the certifying boards.  It is traditional for doctors who are fellows of the ACS to use the F.A.C.S. letters after their names, whereas the use of a societyís initials after the "M.D." hasnít caught on with any of the other societies.