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About Board Certification in Plastic Surgery

The buzzword in medicine nowadays seems to be “board certified”. As a prospective patient, you should ask your surgeon: in which specialty?

There are 24 boards that fit the strict criteria of The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). This organization was established in 1933 and is the umbrella organization for the medical specialty boards in the United States. It serves the activities of its Member Boards and provides information to the public, the government, the profession and its Members concerning issues involving specialization and certification in medicine.

There are about 130 medical boards outside the ABMS, which do not fulfill its strict membership criteria or would be a duplication of an already existing ABMS member board. One example is The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery whose members can be from any specialty of medicine as long as they have an M.D. or D.O. after their names (dentists, family practitioners, psychiatrists, emergency room physicians, ophthalmologists etc. can be members and practice unrestricted cosmetic surgeries out of their private offices).

One very important question that prospective patients should ask their surgeons during the consultation if he/she has hospital privileges to perform these cosmetic procedures in the hospital as well. Hospitals have strict credentialing rules and only allow the physicians to practice within the specialty they were board certified in (the 24 Member Boards of the ABMS). As you can see, both Plastic Surgery and Surgery are Member Boards. Their role is to certify residency trained physicians who voluntarily elect to go through the certification process. Most boards have a two step certification process: a written examination and an oral examination. In Plastic Surgery, once you have passed your written examination, you are invited back to take an oral examination. You have to pass both before you can call yourself “board certified”. This is the culmination of 15-17 years of schooling and training (premedical 4 years, medical 4 years, surgical training 5 years, and specialization 2 years). Now you see why some physicians who did not elect to go through the long arduous process, but want to do cosmetic surgery (one of the few areas of fee for service medicine not covered by insurance reimbursement) look for short cuts or alternate routes.

Once you are board certified in plastic surgery, you can apply for membership in the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). This is the main governing body that provides continuing medical education for its members (about 6,000 plastic surgeons, 98% of all the plastic surgeons in the United States), supports its members in their efforts to provide the highest quality patient care and maintain professional and ethical standards. It also provides educational materials to the public about plastic and reconstructive surgery. ASPS members whose  practice is cosmetic, can apply for admission into the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS). They need to have a certain number of cosmetic cases per year, be in private practice in plastic surgery for at least three years, with high moral standing and professional qualifications. Admission into ASAPS is by invitation only. The members of the society (close to 2,400 surgeons in the United States) have the most expertise in cosmetic surgery. Members of ASPS can display the society’s logo – “The Symbol of Excellence”. Members of ASAPS in addition to the ASPS logo, can display the ASAPS logo – “The Mark of Distinction in Cosmetic Plastic Surgery”.


If you do your “homework” in choosing the best trained and credentialed surgeon for your cosmetic procedure than you can be confident about the outcome.

The following links can provide you with further information:

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery

The American Board of Medical Specialties



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