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Plastic Surgeon vs. Cosmetic Surgeon: What's The Difference?

How do you choose the right plastic surgeon for your cosmetic surgery? There’s a lot of information—and just as much misinformation—out there. Searching for the perfect surgeon for you can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, there are guidelines that all board-certified plastic surgeons agree on. By doing a little basic homework, you can be confident that you’re choosing a plastic surgeon with the right qualifications, training, background and experience to perform your cosmetic surgery.

First, some basics. Did you know that a plastic surgeon who specializes in cosmetic surgery and a “cosmetic specialist” can be very different things?

Our laws permit any physician to perform cosmetic aesthetic procedures. This means, for example, that a family doctor can perform a tummy tuck, a dermatologist can do liposuction, an obstetrician can perform a breast augmentation, a psychiatrist can perform Botox, and an oral surgeon can perform a facelift, even if they’re not trained in these procedures.  And they can advertise themselves as cosmetic surgeons, or cosmetic specialists, or use any appealing-sounding made-up title.

Explains board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Byron Poindexter, “Essentially, there is no such thing as a ‘cosmetic surgeon’ – we can make it that simple –and there is no board of cosmetic surgery recognized by The American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Plastic surgery is a medical subspecialty recognized by the ABMS. The term ‘cosmetic surgeon’ encompasses a lot of people who perform cosmetic surgery and may or may not have the training to do so. Plastic surgeons, whether they specialize in cosmetic surgery or reconstructive surgery, are board-certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery, and that is the credentialing that we, as true plastic surgeons, recognize.” Says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Sigal, “Now, this may be a little confusing for our patients, since we are The Austin-Weston Center for Cosmetic Surgery, and we’ve always been named that, since our practice was founded in 1978. This is to differentiate the plastic surgeons here at our practice who specialize in just cosmetic plastic surgery, from the plastic surgeons who practice a variety of other aspects of plastic surgery, such as reconstructive surgery after trauma or after cancer, or pediatric plastic surgery. These are all fantastic specialties and subspecialties, but they’re different from what we do.

We specialize in cosmetic plastic surgery like facelifts, breast augmentations, liposuction, and so on. Plastic surgery is a huge field, and we’re trained to do a lot of things. We go through extensive training for many years to learn all the different aspects of plastic surgery.”

Adds Dr. Poindexter, “All plastic surgeons learn, for example, how to do hand surgery to fix fractures or diseases of the hand, how to fix facial fractures, and how to treat burn patients. So I can do these things, but they’re not specialties I’ve devoted my practice to, and if one of my friends or family needed one of these types of procedures, I would make sure we found one of these specialists and not do it myself. Amongst plastic surgeons there are those like us at The Austin-Weston Center who specialize in just cosmetic plastic surgery.

There are many plastic surgeons who may be doing the broad spectrum of plastic surgery, and doing it well, but they may not be the specialist you’re looking for. At The Austin-Weston Center, we are true cosmetic plastic surgeons in that we are board-certified plastic surgeons who specialize in cosmetic procedures.”

“Approximately 90% of plastic surgeons do both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, and because we at The Austin-Weston Center focus just on cosmetic surgery, that puts us in the top 10% of plastic surgeons nationwide with this exclusive focus. And because of that, we do more cosmetic surgery procedures than the average board-certified plastic surgeon. In fact, if you look at the number of procedures we do, we perform 3-4 times as many cosmetic surgery procedures as the average plastic surgeon. And the more you do something, the better you get,” observes board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. Robert Sigal.

Says board-certified plastic surgeon Dr. George Weston, “If you’re spending most of your time doing reconstructive plastic surgery, you’re not spending as much time doing cosmetic surgery.

When you choose someone to do your cosmetic surgery, you want to choose someone who does a lot of it—and who is excellent at it. At The Austin-Weston Center, my partners and I do what I like to call Olympic-level cosmetic surgery. 

Let’s use the example of athletes. There are many good and great athletes out there, but not all of them make it to the Olympics. If you have the opportunity to have Olympic-level cosmetic surgery, why would you choose anything else?”

“I encourage everyone researching cosmetic plastic surgery to not only check credentials and training, but to compare results! Every plastic surgeon will have before-and-after examples on their website, and these results will be their very best work.  Go online and compare other plastic surgeons’ before-and-after photos on their websites, you can view ours here. It’s a great apples-to-apples comparison. Many surgeons just have a few before and after photos of different procedures—we have hundreds, and we’re glad that we have so many delighted patients who’ve allowed us to share their results,” concludes Dr. Weston.

The Inside Story on Plastic Surgery Tourism

And when choosing a plastic surgeon, don’t be tempted to combine your plastic surgery with an exotic overseas vacation.; So-called “plastic surgery tourism” packages have been in the news a lot lately – and they’re not good news. Cosmetic surgery tourism packages may seem like a bargain, but the real costs, financial and otherwise, can be considerable.

Comments Dr. Sigal, “I’ve seen many, many people who come to me with problems after traveling out of the country to cosmetic surgery. They’re scared, they’re lost, and I take care of them because I feel badly for them. People look for cosmetic surgery travel packages because it’s significantly cheaper than going to an excellent cosmetic plastic surgeon in the US. Having ‘bargain’ plastic surgery out of the country is never a good idea. Any money you save by having cut-rate plastic surgery is far outweighed by the risks of doing so. Even if you found a great surgeon in another country, it would be difficult for you to do the necessary post-procedure follow-up with your surgeon. For example, patients come from all over the country and the world to see me, and I have to really stress the importance of them staying in the area long enough after surgery to have the appropriate post-procedure appointments and follow-up with me. Surgery is a commitment to yourself and a partnership with your surgeon. Honoring the seriousness of that helps you get the best results possible.”

Says Dr. Poindexter, “Infections are the most common complication we see in patients who have had cosmetic surgery abroad. And there are likely a lot of other issues that may not warrant immediate intervention, but still remain issues with the outcome and the patient’s ultimate happiness with the result.

My advice is to let your vacation be your vacation and to let your cosmetic surgery be your cosmetic surgery – don’t sell yourself short with either.”

Adds Dr. Weston, “Don’t go out of the country for your cosmetic surgery. Have your surgery as close to home as you can, and commit to follow-up with your surgeon! Don’t go looking for rock-bottom priced plastic surgery near a beach. A vacation is a time to relax and have fun. Cosmetic surgery of the face and body – and all surgery – is something that requires serious-minded research and planning. Surgery shouldn’t be done on a whim and you shouldn’t choose your surgeon based on their proximity to a beach or an exotic destination.

And remember that discounted cosmetic surgery is usually discounted for a reason. Buy a used car, but don’t cut corners with your plastic surgery.”

“Fortunately, there are great resources to help you find the perfect cosmetic plastic surgeon for you, near you. First of all, if you’re in our area, come to The Austin-Weston Center!” says Dr. Sigal. “If you’re not near us, go to the website of The American Society of Plastic Surgeons at www.plasticsurgery.org and use their surgeon finder to locate a board-certified plastic surgeon near you. Identify a few plastic surgeons—not more than three, since you don’t want to overwhelm yourself—and go for a consultation.”

Advises Dr. Sigal, “In addition to interviewing the surgeon at your consultation, talk to the staff and ask them if they’ve had plastic surgery with the surgeons they work for. Most of our staff have had plastic surgery of the face, body, or both by us and are happy to talk about their experiences and show their results. Look at the before and after photos on their websites.

Listen to your intuition. If you don’t connect with a surgeon, or get a weird feeling from their office, respect your gut and keep looking. And talk to your friends! You may be surprised at how many of them have had plastic surgery, or are considering it.”

If you’d like to schedule your complimentary consultation with our skilled board-certified plastic surgeons, please call 703-893-6168 or contact us online and our caring staff will be delighted to schedule your private appointment.

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.