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

How to find and interview a facial plastic surgeon

If you are considering facial plastic surgery for yourself, this is the most important page on FacialSurgery.com for you.  Take the time to read it slowly and carefully.

There is a best way for you to select your facial plastic surgeon, and there are some poor ways. Let's take a look at how people select a plastic surgeon, and discuss the pros and cons of each method.

The best way:

The best way to select your plastic surgeon is to do your own research. Take your time. Interview at least two or three plastic surgeons, and see examples of their work. Look at their before and after pictures. Make sure you like the results of the doctor's work and that you feel you have a good rapport with him. That way, you have made a rational, informed decision for yourself. Don't just blindly take someone else's recommendation. Anyone who refers you to a plastic surgeon has far less at stake in the outcome than you do, so it's up to you to take responsibility for finding the best doctor.

Other ways, mostly unsatisfactory:

  • Get a recommendation from your family doctor.

    Your family doctor is busy, and probably doesn't make a career out of carefully evaluating every plastic surgeon in town. He might refer you to a couple plastic surgeons whom he knows well, and the best plastic surgeon in town might not get mentioned.  Your doctor very possibly does not know the quality or lack of quality of the plastic surgeons whose names he gives you.

  • Get a recommendation from a satisfied patient.

    That patient might be satisfied with the results he achieved, not knowing that a different doctor could have done much, much better.

  • Find out if the doctor is board-certified.

    Board certification, by itself, means almost nothing. Remember that the board certification test is a written test; it does not evaluate the surgeon's manual dexterity, his artistic talents, whether he cares about his patients' well-being, or whether his results are excellent, just passable, or bad. You don't just want a board-certified doctor, you want a doctor who can deliver excellent results.

  • Get a referral from a hospital referral line.

    A hospital referral line will send you at random to one of the plastic surgeons who work at that hospital, but to none of the doctors who don't work at that hospital. Hospital referral lines don't take skill or patient satisfaction into account at all.

  • Get a recommendation from your cosmetologist or hair stylist.

    Actually, this may be a reasonable way to select a plastic surgeon, second only to doing your own research. Your cosmetologist is in the appearance business, sees the scars and the results, isn't afraid to talk to the clients, and probably has seen and compared the work of many of the local plastic surgeons. If your cosmetologist is experienced, it's not a bad place to start.

If you're not sure where to start, you can get some names from your cosmetologist or from your family doctor, but remember that you still have to check out the plastic surgeons yourself. The Yellow Pages will have a complete list of doctors, but remember that the size and quality of the ad doesn't necessarily correlate with the skill of the surgeon. If you want to start your research with board certified plastic surgeons who specialize in the face, call the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at 1-703-549-3223 for a list of board certified doctors in your area. The ABFPRS is the only board that sets standards, examines, and certifies surgeons exclusively in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery, so it's a good place to start if you're early in your research and looking for a list of doctors to interview.


Interviewing a plastic surgeon

These pointers will work in any plastic surgeon's office.

Remember:

  • Don't be afraid. It's just an interview. You're not obligated to have anything done. You're just gathering information. Have fun. Talk plain.

  • You are the boss. You are hiring the plastic surgeon. He is the employee, and you are the employer. Don't be intimidated by him.

  • Don't go to your consultation with a pre-conceived notion of the operation that you want or need. Many people see a new, sometimes trendy operation on television, and then visit a plastic surgeon to ask for that exact operation. It is more in your best interest to show the plastic surgeon what it is that you are dissatisfied with, and let him discuss the operations that can address your concerns.

Tasks to accomplish:

  • Get all the information you can about the operation(s) that you are considering. What will be done? What will be improved? What cannot be improved? How much change can he make? Will it be worth it? What are the risks? How long before you can be back in public? What kind of anesthesia will be used? Where will the operation be performed? What will it cost? What are your alternatives?

    If the doctor will not patiently and completely answer all of your questions, simply cross him off your list. You are not doing this for his convenience. You are the one paying the fees. You are the one taking the risks. It is the surgeon's responsibility to make sure that you have all the information you need to make a good decision.

  • Find out how good the surgeon is. You're there in his office. This is your chance to find out, and it's the most important information you will use in selecting your surgeon. You determine how good the surgeon is by looking at before and after pictures of his own patients. If you have a big nose, ask to see patients who had big noses made smaller. If you are a candidate for a face lift, ask to see pictures of face lift patients that he operated on. We'll discuss the before and after pictures in more detail below.

  • If you're very interested but still nervous, ask to talk to some of the doctor's patients who have had the operation you are considering.  It's a reasonable request, and your doctor can arrange for you to speak with someone.


Why do you need to see before and after pictures?

Plastic surgeons are like hairdressers or car mechanics or accountants -- some are exceptional at what they do, and others are inexcusably bad. Pictures will tell you which is which. When a plastic surgeon gives a presentation to other doctors at a scientific meeting, he uses before and after pictures of his patients to prove to his colleagues that his surgical techniques really work in his hands. You are entitled to the same proof about your surgeon's skill. You need to see that the doctor has been able to accomplish for someone else what you want for yourself.

What if the doctor won't show you before and after pictures of patients on whom he has operated? Well, in our humble opinion, you just need to go look elsewhere for your plastic surgeon. Any good plastic surgeon can get permission from some of his patients to show their pictures, and if you don't see any pictures before surgery, you have no idea how good the doctor is. Would you hire an artist to paint your portrait without first seeing any examples of his work? We didn't think so.


More straight talk about the photographs

If the plastic surgeon that you are interviewing won't show you photographs, it does not necessarily mean that he is unskilled. He may be spectacular. It just means that you don't have any evidence, and you sure need that evidence before trusting a doctor with your face. You can't get the information you need from a resume, or the size of an advertisement, or a framed diploma, or the office decor. Without the proof, you're in the dark.

It is not unethical to show before and after pictures, if the patient has given permission.

Do the good results you see in photographs guarantee that you will get the same? No. No surgeon in any field can guarantee the results of an operation. Everyone's face is different, and much depends on your particular anatomy and how your face heals.

Then you ask, What about these pictures, though, isn't my plastic surgeon just showing me his best stuff?  Well, maybe. Probably. But it's not a drawback in your evaluation of a plastic surgeon if he shows you his best stuff. If he could do it for someone else, probably he can do it for you. And the mediocre doctors won't have anything impressive to show you.