What Does Board Certification Really Mean?
Because Board Certification in Plastic Surgery is difficult to achieve, much marketing and confusion exists. While any physician can legally call themselves a “cosmetic surgeon”, only those who have completed the full-time Plastic Surgery residency training and then successfully passed both a rigorous written and even more difficult oral exam can state that they are Board Certified in Plastic Surgery. These exams are given by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). ABPS provides a plastic surgery certification under the American Board of Medical Specialties, which has maintained standards since 1933. ASPS members are certified under the ABPS.
Only fully trained and Board Certified Plastic Surgeons who are members of the American Society of Plastic Surgery may display the special ASPS symbol, which makes it an easy way to recognize true Plastic Surgeons (right). Dr. Granzow is Board Certified in Plastic Surgery and a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).
“Board Certified” simply means a physician has been given a Board Certification by an organization called a “Board”. This includes formally recognized entities such as the American Board of Plastic Surgery but may include unrecognized or other entities calling themselves “Boards”. This can create significant confusion with the terms (see below).
“Board Certified in Plastic Surgery” means that a surgeon has been awarded Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Board Certification in Plastic Surgery is awarded only after finishing a formal residency in Plastic Surgery. This is full-time training, usually 60-80 hours per week with rigorous surgery and on-call requirements. Board Certification in Plastic Surgery also requires passing a rigorous written examination (usually taken 6 or 18 months after completion of all training) and a difficult oral examination which includes cases from a surgeon’s own practice (usually taken at least 18 months following completion of all training).
To be allowed to sit for these exams for the Board of Plastic Surgery, a surgeon must have completed:
- College (usually 4 years)
- Medical School (usually 4 years)
- Internship in General Surgery (1 year)
- Residency in either General Surgery, Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, Orthopedic Surgery, Urology or Neurosurgery (usually 4 to 7 more years)*
- Additional residency in Plastic Surgery (2 to 3 more years)*
- Additional fellowships (specializations) may be performed in addition to the above training
*an integrated residency of 3 or more years of general surgery plus 3 years of plastic surgery now is also accepted
How many years of training does Dr. Granzow have? Click here for more.
“Cosmetic” Surgery is a self-bestowed title and does not mandate years of residency training, on-call and caring for both elective and sick patients.
Board Certification in Plastic Surgery can only be awarded by the The American Board of Plastic Surgery.
Board Certification in Plastic Surgery can not be awarded by any other organization, including the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (approved training in plastic surgery in the area of the head and neck only, formal plastic surgery training encouraged but not required), the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (not a recognized Board by the ABMS, no formal plastic surgery fellowship required), or the State Medical Board (grants medical licenses, not board certifications). These organizations do not require formal residency training in plastic surgery.
Is My Surgeon Board Certified in Plastic Surgery?
Any doctor’s true Board Certification can easily be checked through the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). The ABMS, established in 1933, certifies all major Boards, ranging from Anesthesiology to Orthopedic Surgery to Pediatrics. Note that Board Certifications typically are uploaded within weeks of a physician being certified, and physicians not listed do not have an ABMS recognized Board.
Only Plastic Surgeons awarded Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery may state “Board Certified in Plastic Surgery.”
Board Certified In…?
Beware that physicians who are not Board Certified in Plastic Surgery may still state simply “Board Certified” without specifying by whom they are certified. They may advertise plastic surgery but only have a Board in another field, such as General Surgery or OB/GYN or even Dermatology, or may make statements such as “Cosmetic Surgery Board Certified”, “Board Certified by the State Medical Board”, etc. However, these doctors may not display the above displayed ASPS symbol and may not state specifically “Board Certified in Plastic Surgery.” Only surgeons awarded Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery may state specifically “Board Certified in Plastic Surgery.”
In fact, numerous physicians that appear routinely on television, in the newspaper or in other media as plastic surgeons have never passed their Board Exams in Plastic Surgery.
Do not be afraid or feel shy about asking your doctor about their Board Certification. Any legitimately Board Certified physician is happy to be asked about this and will freely review their credentials.
Not All “Plastic Surgeons” are Board Certified in Plastic Surgery
Not all physicians claiming to be plastic surgeons are Board Certified in Plastic Surgery, and any licensed physician legally can call himself or herself a cosmetic surgeon.
In the United States, physicians are generally licensed as “medical practitioners” (i.e., given their medical license) by the State Medical Board. Federal laws do not govern the quality of specialty training or dictate the procedures a physician may aspire to perform. In effect, a medical school graduate with a medical license can legally claim to be a specialist of his or her own choosing, with or without residency training in that specialty.
This means that, legally, even a doctor only trained in another field, such as general surgery, can legally place breast implants, or a pediatrician can legally do facial lasers or legally even perform procedures such as brain surgery (surprising but true!).
Institutions, such as hospitals, will grant privileges (the allowance to perform certain procedures) only to properly trained physicians. Therefore, a hospital will only allow a Plastic Surgeon to perform breast implants just as it would only allow a neurosurgeon to perform brain surgery.
However, physicians who have their own surgery centers are not subject to such oversight. Here, physicians who have not had specialized training are legally allowed to perform procedures outside of their area. This is why the consumer/patient must carefully check their doctor’s training and background.
The state licensing boards, such as the Medical Board of California, grant a medical license only, not a Board Certification.
State medical boards do not grant Board certification. Therefore, a doctor can be licensed but not “board certified” by the Medical Board of California, for example.