How To Know if Your Physician is Qualified
It goes without saying that we expect our doctor to have expertise in their particular specialty. That’s the whole point of accredited residency training and board certification, continuing medical education, peer-review, and all of the other things that go into developing and maintaining proficiency. And nowhere is this know-how more important than in the three surgical fields that have the longest training requirements: neurosurgery, heart surgery, and plastic surgery. And yet the trend is for doctors from diverse backgrounds to take a weekend course or two and reinvent themselves as a cosmetic surgeon, armed with the latest lasers and multimedia marketing packages. So, how do we define expertise?
True Surgical Expertise Takes Years of Medical Training
True proficiency requires more than good intentions and access to the latest technology. Bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell puts a number on it in his book Outliers: The Story of Success – where he states that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to become an expert in your craft. (Interestingly, this number equates to a bit less than the number of hours in a plastic surgery residency program, beyond the prerequisite general surgery training of similar duration.). Geoff Colvin, Senior Editor at large for Fortune magazine, took it a step further in his book Talent is Overrated. What really separates the masters of their craft is what he calls “deliberate practice” – devoting time to your areas of weakness rather than re-rehearsing what we already do well.
Every Procedure is as Unique as The Patient
Individualizing the approach to a plastic surgery procedure is what yields consistently good results, again a skill requiring experience for true expertise. Gladwell highlights two additional features of highly successful people: They work harder than their peers, and have the ability to see things that others don’t see. Once again, the vantage point required in order to have the perspective to see beyond the routine is gained by experience. Successful outcomes shouldn’t be outliers (statistical rarities) when it comes to plastic surgery. Gladwell’s quote that “Truly successful decision making relies on a balance between deliberate and instinctive thinking,” is especially relevant given that academic medical training is always supplemented by hands-on experience in residency to build that instinctual understanding.
Surgical Experience Ensures a Safe and Successful Procedure
Whether we are talking about an airline pilot or a plastic surgeon, the reason this is important is the same. It has little to do with basic competency, and a lot to do with how to handle the rare or unexpected turn of events. No matter how careful, every plastic surgeon will encounter the patient who has an unexpected reaction during a lipo case or a wound healing problem after a facelift, just as every pilot will sometimes have to navigate through a storm or manage an in-flight equipment malfunction. There are some crucial differences between piloting and plastic surgery though. For one thing, there is no autopilot setting in the operating room, but more important is that every case is unique and should be tailored around the patient.