How to choose a cosmetic surgeon

There's no shortage of cosmetic surgeons in today's looks-driven world and having some nip and tuck is no longer only the domain of the rich and famous. Here's how to locate a reputable cosmetic surgeon you could trust to re-sculpt your face or body.

This article on choosing a cosmetic surgeon is written by Sarah Dawson, a freelance journalist who writes for national and international newspapers, magazines and websites.

Cosmetic surgery is all about enhancing your appearance, in other words, helping you look and feel great, not to mention hopefully several years younger. Popular procedures include facelifts, liposuction and nose reshaping. It doesn't come cheap but if you haven't got a buoyant bank balance right now, fear not, as there are companies offering medical loans to fund your cosmetic operation so a firmer bottom or larger breasts could be well within your reach.

You might say the only snag with the rise in popularity of cosmetic surgery is that the floodgates have opened up to a number of unscrupulous operators posing as cosmetic surgeons, but without the relevant training or experience. It's imperative therefore to do your research and check the facts before you commit, thereby avoiding any unexpected surgical disasters.

Taking the time to find the right cosmetic surgeon will reduce the likelihood of any problems occurring and undoubtedly one of the preferred ways of choosing a cosmetic surgeon is through personal referral. However, if you don't know anyone who has had cosmetic surgery consult the internet or magazines, then find out more about the procedure you'd like and compare what the cosmetic companies are offering. Be aware that different cosmetic surgeons invariably use different techniques and materials.

Fundamentally, you need to ensure that a cosmetic surgeon is properly trained, qualified and experienced. After a five year degree in medicine, graduates follow a surgical training programme which lasts roughly six years then they can obtain the MRCS (member of the Royal College of Surgeons) qualification and progress to plastic surgery posts or to higher surgical training. A surgeon has the initials "FRCSPlast" after his name if he/she is a Specialist Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and has passed examinations in plastic surgery. The anesthetist should have the initials FRCA which means Fellow of the Royal College of Anesthetists.

From tummy tucks to nose jobs

Cosmetic surgery involves a plethora of procedures from tummy tucks to nose jobs and although plastic surgery also includes purely cosmetic procedures, it deals more with procedures which 'normalise' a person's body/face, for example after serious injury, burns, cancer or an anomaly or degenerative condition. Only cosmetic surgeons on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) Specialist Register of plastic surgery are permitted the title of Plastic Surgeon. The GMC Register provides information about a surgeon's training, qualifications and specialist qualifications, but it doesn't recommend individual surgeons so clarify whether the cosmetic surgeon is registered with the relevant governing body(s) and if in any doubt, go to the association’s website to verify this information is correct.

In the UK, the most highly regarded cosmetic surgery societies are the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS), the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and the Plastic Surgical Trainees’ Association (part of BAAPS). Surgeons may also have international memberships such as the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS) or the European Association of Plastic Surgeons (EURAPS). In the US, there is the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). Cosmetic dentists will be listed on the General Dental Council’s (GDC) register and accredited by the British Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (BACD). The Healthcare Commission regulates all private clinics and hospitals, performing systematic inspections and checks.

Where you're based will play a large part in your decision. In the south of England, you can take advantage of the medical excellence of Harley Street, known as Medical London. Visit our sister site Harley Street Guide for a list of specialists. Alternatively, if you're looking for high quality, low-cost surgery why not become a medical tourist and jet off for medical treatment abroad? Just think, you could head to sunny, exotic climes for a make-over then recover beside a pool in Marbella, or on an island in Malaysia.

There are plenty of companies offering great value all-inclusive packages incorporating operation/hospital charges, consultant’s fees, follow-up consultation and quite often accommodation and transport to/from the airport - but get fees clarified in advance - as well as the cosmetic surgeon's qualifications and accreditations. Some surgeons and dentists working abroad train and qualify in the UK and are listed on the General Medical Council’s (GMC) register. There are similar organisations abroad - see our treatment abroad website for country accreditation. In Belgium, for example, the Belgian Society for Plastic Surgery is similar to the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS).

Book a consultation

You could be paying a considerable sum of money for an operation which will alter the way you look - and feel - so you're entitled to grill the consultant/surgeon as much as necessary. Book a consultation with more than one company to compare and ask to meet the surgeon who will perform your operation.  If you don't understand anything, say so, and request to view some ‘before' and 'after’ pictures, but remember these will probably be best case scenarios. Find out where else the cosmetic surgeon operates, does he/she specialise in the procedure you're interested in, how many operations/procedures do they carry out each year, and at what success rate?

You should also find out about the possible risks/side effects of your procedure and what facilities the clinic has in case anything goes wrong. Include questions about the anesthetic, such as what type of anesthesia will be used, are there any risks with this, have the anesthesiologist and surgeon worked together before and will the anesthesiologist perform a pre and post operative evaluation? Also, find out how much recovery time the procedure will entail, and how long you will need to be hospitalised, and how soon you can return home. Don't forget to check about the clinic's MRSA rates and testing.

Once you find a cosmetic surgeon that you feel entirely comfortable with, don't forget to enquire about their availability - they could be so in demand you may have to wait months for an appointment!

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How to choose a cosmetic surgeon