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Choosing Your Surgeon – How to know who is right for you

Did you know, not everyone who calls themselves a surgeon actually is? So how do you know who you can trust to do your surgery? Plastic Surgeon Nora Nugent explains. 

Cosmetic surgery has soared in popularity in recent years.  The taboo around having cosmetic surgery has lessened and relatively speaking, it has become more affordable and more widely available.  However, this has come with its own problems.  Cosmetic surgery is an under-regulated area of medicine and not all those claiming to be cosmetic surgeons have had the correct level of training.  It can be very difficult when looking for a reputable cosmetic surgeon to tell the difference between the highly qualified expert in cosmetic surgery and the under trained practitioner with few qualifications.  Some of the guidelines below will help distinguish one from the other.

  1. Specialist registration with the General Medical Council in Plastic Surgery

All UK practicing plastic surgeons should be registered with the GMC in plastic surgery and this can be checked on the GMC website.  Not all surgeons offering cosmetic surgery are plastic surgeons.  While it is fine for example for an ENT surgeon to offer rhinoplasty (nose reshaping) or an ophthalmologist to offer blepharoplasty (eyelid lift), it is not okay for those with only very general or very little surgical training to offer cosmetic surgery.  Check that your surgeon is a plastic surgeon or a specialist in the area of the procedure you wish to undertake.

  1. FRCS (Plast) qualification

This is the qualification awarded from the final exit exam at the end of training for plastic surgeons who have trained in the UK and Ireland and signifies that the holder has passed this exam.

  1. BAAPS and/or BAPRAS membership

The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) are the main professional bodies representing UK plastic surgeons.  To hold full membership of either organisation, one has to be a fully qualified plastic surgeon.  In addition, BAAPS surgeons are required to submit data on their cosmetic procedures as part of an annual audit of practice.  Membership of both organisations can be checked on their respective websites.

  1. NHS Consultant Plastic Surgeon post

Similar to membership of BAAPS and BAPRAS, holding or having held an NHS consultant post in plastic surgery signifies having met the criteria to be considered a fully qualified plastic surgeon.

  1. In the near future – Cosmetic Certification

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has recently begun the process of certification in cosmetic surgery. The first groups of surgeons are going through the process to be certified currently.  It will soon be possible to check if your surgeon holds this certification in cosmetic surgery and which areas of cosmetic surgery they hold it for.

  1. Before and after photographs of patients

It is very useful to see before and after photographs of your surgeon’s work in your preoperative consultations.  These photographs should be taken from standard angles and in similar lighting and conditions.  Please be aware that your surgeon will need to obtain permission from patients to show these images so will only be able to show images from those who have allowed this.

  1. Approachable and professional manner

Regardless of how well qualified your surgeon is, you need to feel comfortable discussing your concern and to feel comfortable to ask any questions that you may have before and after your surgery.

  1. At least two preoperative consultations with “cooling off” periods of at least two weeks between the two consultations and the second consultation and your surgery

This is recommended to ensure that you have enough time to make your decision regarding cosmetic surgery without pressure and with enough information and time to ask any questions that you may have.

  1. See your surgeon before and afterwards

While it is fine to see a specialist nurse or clinic representative for an initial discussion or for some postoperative checks after surgery, it is very important that you see your surgeon before surgery and for some of the key postoperative appointments too.

  1. Quotation for the procedure that you are undertaking

A quotation for the cost of surgery should be issued beforehand once it is clear which procedure is being undertaken.

  1. Aftercare provided

Ask beforehand how many postoperative appointments are planned, are they included in the cost, who you will see and what happens if you need to come more often or have a problem in between appointments.

  1. What happens if you have a complication? Level of cover provided.

Most reputable clinics and hospitals will cover early complications of surgery free of charge e.g. infection or bleeding.  Late problems such as capsular contracture (excess scar tissue around a breast implant) that may occur several years following surgery are not usually covered.

Beware special offers, discounted surgery and time-limited offers for cosmetic surgery.  If it seems too good an offer to be true, look at the fine print or for what is missing and do not rush your decision.  When done to a high standard and with the proper checks, cosmetic surgery is a very positive undertaking and can be transformative for people.  However, it is surgery and it should be taken seriously with your safety and wellbeing at the forefront of the process.