This blog post was originally published on the American Society of Plastic Surgeons website. Some content has been changed to reflect equivalent certifying bodies in Australia.
Not all physicians are created equally: this is an essential consideration when looking for a plastic surgeon in Melbourne, or any other location for that matter. How do you choose a plastic surgeon? Ensuring safety throughout your plastic surgery journey is just as important as the procedure you want and the desired result. To ensure a safe surgery with an expert in the field, we have outlined a 10-point checklist below to help you in selecting a plastic surgeon, what to ask, and qualities for which to look.
- Your prospective surgeon should be certified by the appropriate specialty group for the procedure you are contemplating. With a multitude of medical practices throughout the country, you can immediately narrow your search down to doctors who are certified by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), this means they are a fellow of the College and will have FRACS after their name. In addition, the peak body in Australia for Specialist Plastic Surgeons (both reconstructive and cosmetic) is ASPS - check online that your surgeon is a member of ASPS. Do you want an occasional plastic surgeon or someone who has gone the extra mile to attain and maintain credentialing? RACS has a rigorous qualification, examination, and recertification process that ensures your plastic surgeon is qualified and an expert in their field.
- Find references you can trust. Ask people you trust, i.e. your GP, friends, and people you know in healthcare to give you recommendations on plastic surgeons they may know or of whom they have heard. Also, reach out to people you know who have had plastic surgery, ask about their experience, and if they are happy with the results. Lastly, go online: review sites can be great places to see what people are talking about with a plastic surgeon. Remember, though, online reviews are not vetted so they might not be as authentic as they appear. A good guide for truth vs fiction is a rating site that has as many good and some not so good ratings. This is more realistic and truthful than someone who has a thousand great ratings and no negative ones. That is a red flag for fake reviews.
- Examine your prospective surgeon's website. First look at the biography section of the plastic surgeon, this will give you information about their experience as well as certification. If there is no biography listed, ask yourself why. A great plastic surgeon will have nothing to hide. A well-organised website, with great design, and detailed information can tell you a lot about a prospective surgeon. Remember, also, that everyone can be famous on their own website, so, when referencing credentials, make sure also to research what each certification means, how is it obtained, how is it maintained, and what qualifications one must have to get that certification.
- Verify that your prospective surgeon has hospital privileges. "Hospital privileges" refers to the right of a surgeon to use the equipment and facilities at a given hospital. Even though you might have your procedure at a Day Hospital rather than an overnight hospital, hospital privileges indicate that your surgeon has been vetted by their peers and by a hospital committee. It should be a red flag if your prospective plastic surgeon does not have hospital operating privileges.
- Enquire about your surgeon's specific experience. You have the right to make sure the surgeon is right for you, possessing the experience and expertise they claim. A qualified plastic surgeon will be more than happy to explain his experience and expertise. If not, that should be a red flag. Make sure to ask if the procedure you are seeking is something they do at least once a week and is it in their top three procedures performed.
- Ask your prospective surgeon to clarify all potential benefits, risks, and complications. If your prospective surgeon answers questions with "everything will be fine," or "you will not feel a thing," this should be a red flag that your surgeon is not being honest with you. Plastic surgery, as relatively safe as it is, can have complications and each patient's medical history can present different risks. Your plastic surgeon should be readily forthcoming with information about risks and potential complications.
- When it comes time for surgery, if you don’t have to stay overnight, it should be performed in an accredited Day Hospital. Accredited Day Hospitals are subject to internal and external inspection by credentialing agencies, thus must maintain a facility that operates in such a manner. This type of facility will also have the emergency equipment and training necessary to respond to an emergency if the need arises. Check your Day Hospital is licensed and accredited.
- A great surgeon will employ a carefully selected and certified anaesthetist. The person administering your anaesthesia is pivotal to ensuring a relaxing and comfortable procedure. A reputable plastic surgeon will only engage anaesthetists that deliver the same quality of care that they deliver.
- Discuss your recovery period with your prospective surgeon. Understanding the recovery process and what to expect especially in the first 24-48 hours is crucial to maintaining safety. Every surgical recovery is unique, and your surgeon should explain in detail what to expect and how to get in touch with his or her staff if necessary.
- Get additional opinions from appropriate professionals, if needed or desired. Remember: This is your body, and you are the boss. Choosing a plastic surgeon is a very personal decision. Selecting a plastic surgeon is an interview process, and sometimes 2 or 3 consultations with different surgeons are necessary to find one that meets your criteria and makes you feel comfortable.
Ultimately when deciding on a RACS qualified plastic surgeon, you must find someone who has experience, who is an expert in the desired field, and who can show you proof of exceptional results. Deciding to undergo surgery to alter your appearance is a big decision and should not be taken lightly. As an educated consumer, you must do your part to determine what you want, do your homework, and seek expert consultation. By following the above steps, you can rest assured that you are making a well-informed decision.