What a Surgeon Wants You to Know Before You Get Plastic Surgery

BY: Colleen Loggins |Jun 13, 2016

Make These Plastic-Surgery Questions Your Top Priority Hero

Getting plastic surgery is a big, life-altering decision, on par with getting married or deciding to make a cat ringbearer at your wedding. Since surgery is such an important decision, it’s crucial to do your research on not only the procedure itself, but also the doctor performing it.

Otherwise, if you neglect thorough research, you might end up like some of the unfortunate patients who undergo procedures that later need to be corrected by skilled, properly accredited surgeons. Dr. Heather Furnas, a board-certified plastic surgeon who completed her plastic-surgery residency at Stanford, is one such doctor. Her Plastic Surgery Associates of Santa Rosa, where she works with her plastic-surgeon husband, is all too familiar with patients who learned the costly lessons of hasty cosmetic surgery performed by unscrupulous practitioners. She hopes to encourage prospective patients to learn all they can about a given procedure and the doctor who will be performing it.

With that in mind, we asked Dr. Furnas what people should look for when trying to find a surgeon and what questions they should ask the doctor to avoid becoming one of these cautionary tales. Whether you want a breast augmentation, liposuction, or rhinoplasty, here’s what you need to know:

Is the doctor certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?

According to Dr. Furnas, the No. 1 thing patients should look for is that the surgeon is certified by the ABPS. This means that the surgeon has had 6–8 years of plastic-surgery training on all parts of the body. What many people don’t know is that, technically, any doctor can perform cosmetic surgery, so it’s important to make sure they’ve actually had plastic-surgery training. She discusses the tricky world of board certification on the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery’s Smart Beauty Guide, which she says is a great patient resource.

Does the surgeon have hospital privileges?

“Hospitals vet their surgeons and are unlikely to give a doctor without appropriate training permission to perform a procedure in the hospital,” said Dr. Furnas, so it’s a good sign if the doctor has hospital privileges.

Where is the surgery performed? Does the room have venetian blinds?

It’s important to make sure the surgeon operates in an accredited facility, which means it has a backup generator in case the power fails, a crash cart in case of a medical emergency, and a well-trained staff. Look at photos of the operating room. Some red flags include: venetian blinds on the windows and carpet on the floor (both are difficult to clean bodily fluids from), a sink in the room (you don’t want a drain anywhere near an open wound), and baseboards (fluid spray and bacteria can easily lurk here).

Can you see before and after pictures of the procedure you want?

If the surgeon says no, you should look for someone else. Some may say they don’t have photos because they want to respect their patients’ privacy. That sounds noble, but as Dr. Furnas explained, patients are “often happy to give permission for [their] photos to be used” because they want to help others make a big decision. So a lack of photos is likely just a surgeon hiding “poor outcomes.”

“A good plastic surgeon, no matter how many or few operations he or she performs, should be able to show great before and after results to patients.”

When you do see the photos, look to see if the before and after pictures look similar, with no changes in lighting, position, or makeup. “Photos can be deceptive,” Dr. Furnas warned.

What are the risks and complications of the procedure, and how are they handled?

It’s important for a surgeon to be able to handle any complications that arise. Patients should ask about the frequency of a risk and how that risk is handled, such as how a doctor deals with a hematoma.

Does the surgeon use a local or general anesthetic?

Some doctors will use local anesthesia and numb only the area of the body getting cut open. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for certain procedures; however, the doctor might be using it not because it’s the best option but because it’s the cheapest. Do some online research to see if other doctors primarily use general or local anesthetic for the procedure you’re interested in.

Do you get a good vibe from the office staff?

This sounds like a small thing, but Dr. Furnas knows how an office staff can impact a surgical experience. After all, they coordinate appointments with the doctor and give them messages. She recommends looking for a staff that’s warm and welcoming and responsive to you.

A few other things Dr. Furnas says to keep in mind …

You can glean some good information from review sites such as Yelp and Healthgrades, but you should look to see if the complaints seem justified. Also, check to see if the positive reviews have a similar writing style, as they may have been posted by someone affiliated with the surgeon.

Don’t be put off by a plastic surgeon who looks like they’ve had a lot of work done on themselves. It’s more important to see how their patients look.

If you do decide to get the surgery, follow all of your doctor’s instructions. “Patients sometimes ask if they can bend the rules in some way, and I explain that I’m doing everything within my power to give them the best result, but I need the patient to be on the same team [as me].”

Don’t have unrealistic expectations. Yes, plastic surgery can dramatically change how you look, but you need to know what’s realistic for your body. You might not be meant to have the pillowy lips of Angelina Jolie or the willowy, graceful legs of the Road Runner. And that’s OK.

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