The relationship between plastic surgeon and patient is a kind of marriage, and the odyssey of identifying the right partner for your own particular needs is not unlike finding the right mate: It requires some due diligence. You'll probably start by asking friends, family—basically anyone you know who has had “good work” done—plus your already trusted team of medical professionals for recommendations.
If that’s not enough, you may turn to one of the matchmakers in this realm: consultants who will open up their M.D. Rolodexes and walk you through the process. When hiring a consultant, confirm in writing that he or she does not accept referral fees or other compensation from the doctors recommended. Whichever way you go about your research, keep in mind these eight important tips.
Know the lingo. Terms like “antiaging specialist” and “cosmetic surgeon” are unrecognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties but increasingly used by general surgeons, ear/nose/throat specialists and even dentists who want a share of the market. The ABMS acknowledges the American Board of Dermatology and the American Board of Plastic Surgery (which, in turn, certifies the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery). “ ‘Cosmetic surgeons’ was used to sound more user-friendly,” says New York–based consultant Francesca Camp (917-685-8719). “But now any M.D. can take a weekend course and do procedures. My gynecologist is doing Botox!”
Steer clear of ads. “A lot of doctors are not that good but have powerful PR,” says Manhattan plastic and cosmetic surgery consultant Denise Thomas (denisethomas.com). “I’d never go to a doctor who advertises. Often the best are the quiet ones you may not hear about, like a great neighborhood restaurant.”
See more than one surgeon. “It’s not uncommon to see five qualified people and get five different opinions,” says consultant Wendy Lewis, who works with clients in Palm Beach, New York and London (knifecoach.com). “You can walk out with your head spinning. There’s never one option; there are even multiple alternatives for a bump on the nose.”
Avoid online forums. Those affidavits from satisfied patients aren’t always legitimate. “I’ve seen doctors sitting in their offices writing about themselves under various screen names,” says Thomas.
Prepare for the recovery period. “A big problem is doctors’ downplay of the downtime,” says Camp. “Sure, you can go back to work in a few days—if you work in a cubby where nobody will see you. Whatever the doctor tells you, double it.”
Do photo research. “Most people judge a doctor’s skill with before and after photos,” says Lewis. “There are doctors who play fast and loose with Photoshop, but there’s still a lot you can tell by pictures. Does he overoperate or under-operate? Do the patients look better? If they all look like Joan Rivers, this isn’t the right guy. The hard part is finding photos that look like you.”
Watch your weight. The truth is that some doctors don’t want to do facelifts on obese people. “It might be because they think the outcome won’t be great—there’s only so much skin that can be pulled back—and they don’t want to be associated with the result,” Thomas says. “Most importantly, they are concerned about the patient’s heart health.”
Make the appointment. “There used to be more doctors who would tell patients to wait, to come back in five years,” says Lewis. “Now a lot of good doctors aren’t as busy and are happy to see you.”