There are few decisions in life as personal as those related to your cosmetic surgery. The decision to go ahead with a procedure must be made carefully—and with the right professional guidance.

Unfortunately, not all cosmetic surgeon are created equal in this regard. You shouldn’t assume that just any cosmetic surgeon offering cosmetic contouring has what it takes to deliver beautiful and quality results.

Defining the Specialty

Aesthetic treatments are unique in the medical world in that they can be performed by any surgeon or doctor, even those who have not had specialized cosmetic surgery training. To the casual observer, it may not seem necessary that a cosmetic surgeon have all those extra certifications for a relatively simple procedure.

Make no mistake, though—advanced training can make all the difference when it comes to cosmetic enhancement.

Consider liposuction—this procedure does not typically require years of training to perform, and it may seem like any doctor could handle the procedure well enough. But do you really want to have a lipo procedure from a dermatologist, gynecologist or family practitioner who has completed a few weekend courses?

Compare that scenario to a dedicated cosmetic surgeon with advanced training who has been performing liposuction and many other body contouring procedures for many years.

A Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon is surgeon who receives specialty training in reconstruction of the body. Although there are some combined programs, most plastic surgeons start of as general surgeons who go on to receive additional training in plastic surgery.

The scope of a plastic surgeon’s training includes reconstruction of soft tissue injuries and defects from trauma and burns, craniofacial injuries and defects like facial fractures or cleft lip deformities, hand injuries and defects, breast reconstruction following breast cancer surgery, and finally aesthetic surgery.

Despite common perception, aesthetic or cosmetic surgery is only a small facet of a plastic surgeon’s training and many have to do additional training to become proficient at cosmetic surgical procedures.

Plastic Surgeons are not to be confused with Facial Plastic Surgeons who usually start out as Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgeons and go on to do additional training in Cosmetic facial surgery.

A more recent designation that has emerged is the field of Cosmetic Surgery which is wholly dedicated to aesthetic procedures. A board-certified Cosmetic Surgeon must hold a certification in a surgical specialty like plastic surgery, general surgery, otolaryngology, or oral-maxillofacial surgery.

Additionally, Cosmetic Surgeons must undergo additional fellowship training specifically dedicated to cosmetic surgical procedures which include facial, breast, body, as well as dermatologic procedures. Unlike plastic surgery which focuses mainly on reconstructive procedures, Cosmetic Surgery focuses only on aesthetic procedures and the training is also dedicated to those procedures alone.

Overlap, Territory, and Confusion

There is overlap in many surgical fields. For example, blood vessel surgery can be performed by either a cardiac surgeon or a vascular surgeon; spine surgery can be performed by a neurosurgeon or an orthopedic surgeon; hand surgery is done by both plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons; skin cancer surgery can be done by a general surgeon, dermatologist, or plastic surgeon.

The same is true for cosmetic surgical procedures. The tenants and principles of many cosmetic procedures are derived from many different specialties and not plastic reconstructive surgery alone. For example, the modern form of tumescent liposuction was pioneered by a Dermatologist..

Today, tummy tucks are performed by general and bariatric surgeons as well as plastic surgeons – all of whom are very familiar with surgery of the abdominal wall. Many of the facial procedures that are performed by plastic surgeons were developed and refined by otolarygologists and oral-maxillofacial surgeons.

This historic overlap and mixed messages from the various specialties trying to protect their “territories” has caused a lot of confusion for the public and rightly so. The savvy consumer should try to look beyond the “hype” that is so prevalent in advertisements and delve deeper into the surgeon’s training and experience. A title alone does not guarantee that a surgeon is proficient at any given procedures.

At a minimum the surgeon should be a board-certified plastic surgeon or cosmetic surgeon with specialized or fellowship training in cosmetic surgery. Make sure that regardless of the surgeon’s title or designation that he/she has extensive training in the procedure of interest and that the surgeon has experience performing the procedure many times.

A sure way to ascertain this is by asking to view before and after photos of the surgeon’s actual patients.

See Dr. Truong photo gallery

Experience and Training

Not every doctor has enough experience to understand how the cosmetic contouring will factor into your overall appearance. Plastic and Cosmetic surgeons with post-doctoral training in cosmetic surgery and years of experience will be able to adjust their techniques to the specific needs of each person.

This includes accounting for many variables that non-specialized surgeons likely haven’t considered. There is no substitute for knowledge of anatomy and the effects of healing from an invasive procedure that can only come with proper training and experience.

While some treatments like BOTOX® Cosmetic can be safely performed by doctors who are not cosmetic surgeons, are you willing to take that chance with your body and health when going under the knife? Don’t risk your appearance and well-being—find a surgeon with the proper training and skills.

Visit the American Society of Plastic Surgeons or The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery to find a qualified surgeon.