The ABCs of Plastic Surgery Board Certification
by Beauty Blogger Emmy Owens
When someone first begins considering plastic surgery, familiar words are combined in unfamiliar ways to take on a new meaning, such as saline implants, brow lift, and injectable fillers. Another important example: board certified.
A board-certified surgeon has undergone certain requirements for a group associated with the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), a reputable nonprofit that oversees 24 member boards. These include the American Board of Ophthalmology, the American Board of Radiology, and the American Board of Internal Medicine. The board most commonly associated with plastic surgery is The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).
There are some surgeons who advertise being associated with multiple ABMS member boards. For example, Dr. Richard Chaffoo offers various facial and general plastic surgery procedures at his San Diego clinic and advertises himself as being “triple board certified.” According to his website, Dr. Chaffoo is certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery, the American Board of Otolaryngology, and the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. All 3 of these boards are recognized by state medical boards, but only 2 (the ABPS and the ABO) are ABMS member boards. Confused yet?
Don’t worry — you’re not alone. A recent survey by the popular plastic surgery website RealSelf showed that almost everyone interested in cosmetic procedures says they want a “board-certified” doctor, but “they don’t actually know what that means.”
So let’s break it down. Read on to learn about the boards that matter when you’re considering plastic surgery and what you can do to protect your beauty and well-being.
The American Board of Plastic Surgery
The American Board of Plastic Surgery, like all ABMS-member boards, is recognized by state legislatures to hold its member surgeons to certain standards. To become a member of The ABPS, a plastic surgeon must perform to a certain standard in various exams and provide a case log of at least 50 surgeries within a 9-month period. These tests have been approved by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to ensure that the application process is sufficiently rigorous.
Prior to the examination period, the surgeon must be “board-eligible,” which means he or she has completed a minimum 3-year general surgery residency and a minimum 2-year fellowship in plastic surgery, though many applicants do more.
What does all this mean? The ABPS is largely regarded as the gold standard within the plastic surgery community, and it’s the first thing you should look for when researching your physician of choice.
The American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
The American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (ABFPRS) is an interesting case because it is one of the few boards that is not a member of the ABMS, but it is recognized by most state legislatures and medical boards as an ABMS-equivalent board. Like the ABPS, the ABFPRS requires that its members pass written and oral examinations and document at least 100 surgical cases over a 2-year period. And before applying for ABFPRS membership, the doctor must already be certified by 1 of 2 ABMS boards: The American Board of Plastic Surgery or the American Board of Otolaryngology.
In the case of the surgeon we mentioned earlier, Dr. Chaffoo, ABFPRS certification falls on top of those other 2 certifications like icing on a cake. Although the ABFPRS is not a member board of the ABMS, it is well respected, and you can take it as a good indication that your surgeon is an experienced, vetted medical practitioner.
The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery
The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) seems similar to the aforementioned groups, doesn’t it? But the ABCS is neither a member board of the ABMS nor an ABMS-equivalent board, according to state legislatures. A surgeon who claims to be board certified solely as a member of the ABCS is not certified to the same degree. The ABCS does perform examinations and has certain qualification requirements for its prospective members, but the ACGME reviewed the application process and determined it was not equivalent to those required by ABMS member boards.
Although not all surgeons who claim ABCS certification are unqualified, it can be considered a red flag. Remember that anyone with a medical license can legally perform a cosmetic procedure, but only those certified by the most reputable groups have the strongest vetting processes behind them.
In addition to medical boards, there are numerous societies, academies, and fellowships that are often wonderful groups for doctors. For example, the American Society of Plastic Surgery® (ASPS) provides physicians with continuing education opportunities, surgeon advocacy, and member-only content and information. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons is another popular group with even more exclusive membership requirements. These groups are a good thing to keep an eye out for when considering surgeons, as they may be an indication of a physician going the extra mile.
Another positive sign is affiliations with hospitals and educational facilities. Universities and medical facilities often do their own vetting of surgeons before advertising their affiliation, and they are usually pleased to confirm this for potential patients.
Why All This Matters
Because plastic surgery is usually elective surgery, you as the patient have a lot of control over your care. You are ultimately responsible for ensuring your health, as well as your investment in these procedures and your cosmetic results.
Be proactive about whom you choose as your surgeon. Always carefully research your plastic surgeon’s credentials, and don’t be afraid to verify his or her membership with any boards, groups, hospitals, or other organizations.