How I Found My Plastic Surgeon: Trust Your Gut
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 and operating room. 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.
Elizabeth, 52, might have avoided reconstructive surgery if she had read more online reviews and trusted her gut.
My two aesthetic plastic surgery experiences were at two extremes: the worst and the best.
The first time I had surgery was more than twelve years ago. I wanted my nose reshaped and, during the consultation, was convinced by the doctor that I should also have a chin implant and some liposuction. The surgeon I chose was older — probably in his sixties at the time — and I figured he’d had lots of experience. He’d also appeared on Oprah!, which, in 2005, was a big deal. The first time I went to the surgeon's office, I took a friend from the beauty industry with me, and we were both impressed. Maybe less by him and more by his art-filled Upper East Side office and name-dropping, but I felt that if he’d had a successful practice for years, I’d be safe in his hands. Now, more than a decade later, I can see the red flags I missed.
For starters, he smoked a cigar throughout our consultation. Seriously. He also talked at me the entire visit, bragging about his accomplishments and not really taking any time to get to know me or understand my concerns. He (successfully) upsold me on more surgery procedures — that chin implant and lipo — when I’d only come in about my nose. He never showed me his operating room, which was in the same building as his office. I also dismissed negative reviews I’d read online. At the time, chat rooms and community boards were relatively new and, while I did look at them, I didn't take them seriously. They were littered with negative comments about him, mostly referring to the fact that he had terrible bedside manner. I should have paid closer attention.
I could write a book about my negative plastic surgery story, but one detail sums up the experience: I woke up in the middle of my surgery to the doctor banging on my nose. That was emblematic of everything that followed. He botched my nose job, taking too much off the end and making my nostrils look over-exposed. He also left stitches inside my nose that caused an infection. He put in a chin implant that was too large and he overdid the liposuction, causing the skin in my stomach to permanently tighten and twist. In the end, he accepted no responsibility for anything and, while I did try to pursue legal action, my lawyer told me to save my money and put it toward reconstructive surgery.
It was during the pursuit of corrective surgery for my nose that I found the best surgeon. I first met him when I developed the infection in my nose. I’d been treated so poorly by the first doctor that, when the pain started, I didn’t trust him to take care of it. So, I searched online for they type of procedure I wanted and board-certified plastic surgeons who had rave reviews when it came to nose jobs. I called the one whose name came up most often. I was desperate and scared. I explained my story to the nurse on the phone, which she communicated it to him, and told me that even though he was done seeing patients for the day, he would wait at the office for me until I could get there. I was so thankful. He immediately put me on antibiotics and followed up with me until the infection was gone.
He also helped outline the surgical procedures he thought would help me and explained that I would have to allow my nose to fully heal and wait a year before I could go under the knife again. In our follow-up meetings, he took the time to understand what I wanted and even asked me to draw a picture of what I wanted my nose to look like. He was an excellent communicator and explained clearly explained the kind of result I could realistically expect from these new plastic surgery procedures. He seemed to both understand what I wanted and be capable of creating it for me. I trusted his artistic skill as much as his medical acumen. I did wait a year until the second surgeon could do my corrective surgery. He restored my nose and removed the oversized chin implant.
I learned a lot during those two years of surgery and recovery. First, don’t dismiss what you read online. The negative reviews are good cautionary tales, but the positive ones are also important. People are more apt to pound out angry comments, but when someone takes the time to write about exemplary work, that’s just as telling. I also believe you should trust your gut. There were warning signs with the first doctor — the smoking, the over-talking, the disinterest in me — that made me wary, but I repressed that anxiety because of this doctor’s fancy office and television appearance. Always listen to your inner voice. Beware of any doctor who goes overboard telling you everything they think is "wrong" about you and all the additional cosmetic procedures they think you "need." If you go in for a nose job, that’s what you should be discussing. Finally, consider a surgeon with a specialty in the specific procedure you want. The second surgeon I chose is known for nose jobs—it’s what he does the most often. That turned out to be one of the most important things for me.