The special issue of specialization in plastic surgery
When people learn that I am a plastic surgeon they often ask “What area is your specialty?” They want to know if I specialize in facelifts, or breast augmentation, or tummy tucks. If I did limit my practice to one part of the body, it would be an easier answer but the truth is that I do cosmetic plastic surgery of the whole body, as defined by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. I am known for certain things, such as revision breast surgery, but over my career I have probably done close to 1000 facelifts. So what I specialize in is combining artistic sense with science and advanced techniques for natural-appearing results.
It’s tempting though for the average person to want to go to the best facelift surgeon for their facelift, the breast expert for their breast lift, and so forth. But specializing in one body part can mean that their training is limited to that area, not that they have had more training. Even fully trained plastic surgeons sometimes take advantage of this by limiting their practice and implying that anyone who doesn’t do at least 100 cases per year of a particular procedure isn’t as qualified. How many is enough? Isn’t it possible to do 25 or 50 cases per year of a particular operation and be proficient?
On the other hand, it is fair to ask how many facelifts or tummy tucks a surgeon has done, and our specialty societies such as The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery encourage it. My advice is that membership in a society such as ASAPS is actually a more important thing to look for in a plastic surgeon because it requires a high volume and emphasis on aesthetic (cosmetic) plastic surgery. It’s also fair to ask to see before and after pictures, keeping in mind that there is a strict consent process for this and if you want to see a lot of examples then consider consenting to share yours.
A high volume plastic surgery practice is unfortunately not a guarantee that every case will turn out perfectly; there are too many variables beyond the surgeon’s control during the healing process. So ultimately you want a plastic surgeon you can relate to and that you feel you can trust. Just as results in cosmetic plastic surgery are hard to quantify, expertise is defined by more than just numbers.