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Home/Blog / A “cosmetic surgeon” and board certification

Recently a friend of mine sent another physician my way, who was looking for a plastic surgeon to help with a skin cancer on her face.  A dermatologist who had diagnosed the cancer offered to remove it and repair the defect, but as a physician, the patient wanted a surgeon.

My dermatology colleagues who are trained in Mohs procedures (serial excisions of skin cancers with careful pathologic analysis to assure ALL the cancer is removed) generally have experience with closing small wounds, and do just fine.  I appreciate, however, that this physician-patient wanted a surgeon.

A general surgeon has at least 5 years of hands-on training (aka residency) after medical school.  Becoming board-certified in general surgery requires taking a written and oral exam that is focused on medical problems treated with surgery and surgical technique.  The Board certifying general surgeons is the American Board of Surgery.

A plastic surgeon has at least 6 years of specialized training (in residency and fellowship) after medical school, and goes through a similar board certification process; the oral exam is actually even more specific, as it requires the examinees to have a variety of cases (as plastic surgery is such a diverse discipline) and they are tested on their decisions and results of those cases.  (FYI, I passed my written exam and am in the process of collecting cases to take the oral exam.)  The American Board of Plastic Surgery regulates this process.

I also recently met someone socially, who handed me a card describing herself as a “board-certified cosmetic surgeon.”  The general public may not understand the difference between a “board-certified cosmetic surgeon” and a Board-certified plastic surgeon, but there are several:

– There is no board of cosmetic surgery that is overseen by the American Board of Medical Specialties.  So, anyone can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon.  (This physician was actually trained in internal medicine, not surgery, or even dermatology.)

-The Board-certification that matters is the Board for the specialty – not the Medical Board of California (any licensed physician can technically say they are board-certified by the Medical Board), or the board for any other specialty.  So if you consult someone who is board-certified, ask them what they are board certified in; think carefully if you want someone trained to treat heart disease to do a cosmetic procedure on your face!