|Choosing The Right Plastic Surgeon For Breast Reconstruction
Wayne C. Lee, M.D., F.A.C.S.
Dr. Lee's Interview On:
"How Can I Choose a Plastic Surgeon For Breast Reconstruction?"
“Look at Medical Centers”
Finding the right plastic surgeon can be tough. Especially if you don't know where to start your search.
In some cases, your medical team will assign a plastic surgeon to you. This doesn't mean you have to have this surgeon perform your procedure. Usually this "assignment" just means your team strongly recommends a certain surgeon. In other cases, you may have to find a surgeon completely on your own.
“So Where Do You Start”
Start your search in the easiest way possible by talking to your breast surgeon. They are likely familiar with other plastic surgeons and can point you in the right direction. To learn more about a plastic surgeon, you can look them up online, says Dr. Lee.
Dr. Lee also suggests the website plasticsurgery.org. Under the "Find a Surgeon" tab, you can search for plastic surgeons based on your location. All of the plastic surgeons listed on the site are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). According to Dr. Lee, a certification from the ABPS carries the most weight because of the organization's extensive training requirements.
You can also look at the websites of local medical centers. These sites usually list the physicians and surgeons practicing at the center. Some even include a biography of each surgeon so you can easily see what they are experienced in. If a surgeon has no experience performing the type of reconstruction you want, keep searching until you find one who does.
As you search, make sure you pay attention to the surgeon's location. Finding a plastic surgeon that is in your town or the nearest city is best. Unfortunately if you live in a small or rural area, you may not have any reconstruction surgeons near you. The nearest town could be several hours away. This can make reconstruction more difficult but not impossible.
Dr. Lee says that if you have to travel far, plan on staying in that location for several weeks. This allows you time for all of your follow-up appointments so your plastic surgeon can check for complications before you return home.
“Check Their Credentials”
Once you have a list of potential plastic surgeons, start gathering more information.
Most surgeons have before and after photos online of past procedures. Look through these images to make sure you are happy with the surgeon's results.
Beyond that, check each surgeon's credentials. These may include everything from board certifications and degrees to post-doctoral training and continuing education. By verifying the credentials, you make sure your surgeon is well-trained and educated in his field. You want to be sure they possess the skills they are advertising. Most surgeons list their degrees and board certifications online. But you may have to request additional details at their office.
In addition to board certifications, look for a plastic surgeon who belongs to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). If you're not in the US, you'll still want to check for your country's equivalent association for board-certified surgeons. To be a member of the ASPS, plastic surgeons must complete at least six years of surgical training after medical school. Of that, at least three years must be plastic surgery residency training. They are also required to complete continuing education every year. And pass oral and written exams.
These requirements ensure surgeons stay well-trained and up-to-date on changes in the field of breast reconstruction. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is also recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). This organization does not recognize any certifying board with the words "cosmetic surgery" in the name. So make sure you keep that in mind.
“Interview Potential Surgeons”
After you are happy with the credentials of a surgeon, set aside some time to interview them.
Right off the bat, you can eliminate some surgeons based on their responses. Surgeons who are not willing to complete a consultation with you aren't the best choice for such a delicate procedure. The same is true for surgeons that are difficult to get ahold of. Ideally, you want a plastic surgeon who can get you in for a consultation within a week or two, states Dr. Lee. And you want a surgeon who can operate within two to four weeks if you are looking for immediate reconstruction. But you may have more time to get a consult if you are getting delayed reconstruction.
During your consultation visit, ask plenty of questions about the surgeon's experience and the procedure you want. Some of these questions may include:
Dr. Lee suggests that you make sure to ask the following:
- How often do you perform the type of reconstruction I want?
- Are there any complications I can expect?
- Can I speak to previous patients who have had the same procedure?
- How is my breast cancer treatment affected by reconstruction?
- Is there a type of reconstruction that you think is best for me?
- Will there be scars or pain after my procedure?
- How will weight loss or gain affect the results?
- Do you have pictures of typical results?
- Does your office accept my medical insurance?
First, you should ask plastic surgeons how many breast reconstruction procedures they perform. A qualified plastic surgeon should perform breast reconstruction several times each month. With this frequency, you can be sure they are knowledgeable and skilled at what they do.
Second, ask about what types of breast reconstruction a plastic surgeon is familiar with. Keep in mind that plastic surgeons don't have to offer all types of reconstruction. But they should still be aware of every type.
Third, you should ask how a plastic surgeon handles potential complications. Dr. Lee notes that there are several risks associated with breast reconstruction, including bleeding, skin and nipple necrosis, infection, and seromas (fluid collections).
In fact, there's a higher chance of experiencing a complication after breast reconstruction than after cosmetic breast surgery. Qualified plastic surgeons have protocols for handling these complications.
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