How I Found My Plastic Surgeon: It's Surgery, Not A Spa Appointment
Finding the right plastic surgeon is a lot like dating. You’ll likely have to consult with a few doctors — and maybe meet a frog or two along the way — before you find the best one for your cosmetic surgery.
So, how do you know when you've found the one? There are a few important factors. For starters, he or she must be board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, must have attended an accredited medical school, and must perform all procedures in an accredited or state-licensed surgical facility. What makes them the right doctor for you beyond professional accreditation is a bit more subjective. In this series, we ask real patients to share their surgeon-selection stories to help guide — and safeguard — your own cosmetic surgeon search.
The below interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Sara, 36, learned the hard way that a surgeon's office is not a reliable indicator of their expertise.
My first experience with a plastic surgeon was horrific, and I don’t use that word lightly. I was 25 and living in New York City when I decided to have plastic surgery on some tubular birth defects in my breasts and stomach. The surgeon I chose was based on a friend’s recommendation; that friend had been researching breast augmentation for herself and said this doctor was supposed to be the best. I wasn’t interested in breast augmentation, but figured the surgeon would be working on my chest so "breasts" was a good expertise to have.
At my first appointment, I was impressed by the surgeon's office. It was on Park Avenue in a beautifully-appointed carriage house. I figured the doctor couldn’t be bad if she could afford to pay that kind of rent for her office. It was also nicely decorated and felt comfortable, not at all clinical or like I was in a hospital. Now, I look back and I think that was a bad thing—I was never even shown the operating room. But at the time, the environment was a positive.
My experience during the meeting with the doctor, however, was less comforting. She herself had obvious breast implants, and they were large, hard, and very high with protruding nipples. They were distracting. She told me within minutes of meeting that I’d look "much prettier" with bigger breasts, which was a pretty lousy thing to say since I was not in her office for breast augmentation and I’d told her from the beginning that I had no interest in getting them. Despite these warning signs, I decided to let her operate. I was young and my birth defects were something I was loathe to have to talk about again with another doctor. Plus, the idea of navigating a big New York hospital felt scarier than the carriage house. Big mistake.
The first thing I remember after my surgery is waking up sobbing over a toilet with a nurse yelling at me. The whole post-surgery experience was terrible, and now I know they were shockingly negligent in their care. They basically pushed me out of the office when my friend arrived to pick me up and, on the way to my apartment, we had to pull over so I could throw up. My friend looked terrified. No one had prepped me on the seriousness of my surgery or what my aftercare would be. My friend helped as much as he could but he was also young, had to go to work, and couldn’t stay with me around the clock. Once, when he wasn’t there, I passed out and woke up on the floor by myself. I obviously survived and am here ten years later to talk about it, but I have scars (literally and figuratively) to show for it.
Thankfully, that’s not where the story ends. About ten years later, after I’d moved back to the Midwest, I decided to see if anything could be done about the scarring and lumps I’d developed in the wake of that initial surgery. This time, I went to a doctor at the recommendation of my mother, who’d had a few nonsurgical cosmetic procedures at this doctor’s office connected to a hospital. It was during that initial meeting that I realized what I should have expected from a board-certified plastic surgeon all along. This doctor was kind and empathetic. He asked me lots of questions, and I felt like he was trying to get to know me as a person to better understand what I did and didn’t like about my body. He was horrified at what the previous doctor had done and assured me he could help.
My surgery experience with him was the complete opposite of the one I’d had before. I woke up in bed in an actual hospital with an anesthesiologist sitting beside me. The doctor and his team kept me in the recovery room until they felt confident I could safely be released. I was wheeled out of the hospital in a wheelchair and given strict instructions on aftercare and my follow-up appointments. I had to go see my doctor the next day and again the next week. They even set me up with a massage therapist to help break up scar tissue. I felt like they treated me with respect and exceptional care.
What I learned from these two experiences is to find a doctor who sees you as a human being. You want someone who takes the time to get to know you and understand what matters to you about your body. I also found that studying the doctor’s staff can tell you something about the cosmetic surgeon's approach and aesthetic sense. At the New York office, that surgeon’s team all had a more plastic, big-chested appearance. At my second doctor, the staff was very natural-looking, and that was what I wanted.
I’d also say to make sure your doctor is affiliated with a good hospital and ask to see where the surgery will happen in advance. If I’d seen the operating room in that carriage house ahead of time, I might have saved myself a lot of trouble. Finally, always make sure you feel in control and are not being told what to do or what surgical procedures you need to "look prettier." You are the patient asking for help and the doctor should be offering solutions to your requests, not trying to upsell you.