How do I check my cosmetic surgeon’s qualifications and experience?

Once you’ve made the decision to undergo cosmetic surgery to correct or enhance either the face or body, the first step is to find a cosmetic surgeon. This is often the most important step in the planning stage, as your practitioner choice can have a profound impact on the eventual success of your cosmetic surgery procedure.

Are they registered with the GMC?

All medical professionals in the UK should be registered with the General Medical Council (GMC). As well as telling you whether they are registered to practice, this online registry will also indicate if they are qualified for a particular surgical specialty.

There are ten main surgical specialties and these include general surgery, cardiothoracic, neurosurgery, vascular, oral and maxillofacial and plastic surgery. In the UK there is no legal restriction on surgeons from other specialties offering ‘cosmetic surgery’ as it is purely an elective surgical procedure that is performed privately. However, by choosing a plastic surgeons you will be assured that they have trained for many years in reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, relating to all areas of the body and face.

Are they registered with an independent plastic surgery association?

In the UK, there are two leading independent plastic surgery associations – the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS) and the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS). These associations carry out regular safety audits of their members, so by choosing a BAAPS or BAPRAS registered surgeon, you can be assured they have all the relevant qualifications and are fit to practice.

What should I be asking in my cosmetic surgery consultation?

  • Once you have identified one or more potential practitioners, the consultation is a vital opportunity to find out more about their experience. Here’s some questions to ask:
  • How many years’ experience do you have in plastic surgery and in the particular procedure I am interested in?
  • How many procedures of this type do you perform a year/month/week?
  • Do you think my expectations are realistic and do you have before and afters of patients that have undergone a similar procedure to me?
  • How would you manage any complications if they arose?

Cosmetic surgery aftercare – what to expect

Your post-surgery needs will vary, depending on what sort of operation you have had, but here are some basics that every surgeon or clinic should offer, whatever the procedure:

Pain relief

Following your operation, you will be in some pain for a few days or even weeks. You should be kept in the hospital for a few hours immediately after the surgery – sometimes overnight, particularly if general anaesthesia was used – so that the surgical and anaesthetic team can assess you to make sure you are recovering well and able to return home.

You will be given painkillers and – if necessary – antibiotics to take home with you, and advised on dosage and how frequently to take them.

A recuperation plan

Your surgeon should give you a comprehensive aftercare plan, detailing what activities you need to refrain from and for how long.

It may be that you are expected to do very little for a few days after the operation, in which case the hospital should make sure that someone is there to accompany you home, and that that person is aware of your recuperation plan.

Follow-up appointments

Most surgeons will want to see you around seven days post surgery, to ensure the incisions are healing well and that any bruising or swelling is diminishing. Assuming all is well, you will then be seen again at around six weeks post op, and then at 12 weeks, to check that everything is progressing as it should be.

Emergency contact

You should also be given a number that you can contact at any time in the few weeks immediately after surgery, in case you have any major concerns or problems. In the vast majority of cases, patients never need to use this service, but it is important that you are able to contact the operating team should you need to.

Why do some cosmetic surgeons charge for consultations?

The question should really be: why don’t some clinics charge for consultations. Cosmetic surgeons, like specialists in any other area of medicine, use the consultation to perform a thorough check-up and discuss with you your reasons for wanting surgery, in order to assess both your physical and emotional well-being.

Once all these checks have been carried out, the surgeon will then propose the options available to you and discuss the pros and cons of each option.

Consultations do not always lead to operations

It may well be that at the end of the assessment, the surgeon decides that s/he will not operate on you – this could be for a medical reason, or because s/he feels that your expectations of surgery are unrealistic, or because s/he is not satisfied that you want the surgery for the right reasons. Patients often decide that cosmetic surgery is not the right choice for them at this current time – but they can only make that decision when they have all the information they require and that is only possible in a thorough, in-depth consultation.

In private medical practice, all specialists charge for their time and their professional opinion, and so it follows that cosmetic surgeons do the same.

Why do some clinics offer free consultations?

If you go for two consultations, one of which you pay for and one of which is free, you will probably notice a big difference.

It is often the big cosmetic surgery groups who offer free consultations, and frequently these ‘consultations’ are not even with the cosmetic surgeon, but with a salesperson who uses the time to persuade you to have the operation.

It is important to remember that although nominally ‘cosmetic’, this is still a surgical procedure, which requires a full and thorough medical assessment beforehand.

If you are planning to undergo a cosmetic surgical procedure, it is advisable to attend at least two consultations beforehand. This allows you to benefit from two professional opinions and weigh up your options before choosing the surgeon you want to perform your operation.

Why are cosmetic surgery reviews important?

When searching for a cosmetic surgeon, many people choose to prioritise qualifications, board certification, locality or even price, over the more traditional, word-of-mouth route.

All of these factors are important, of course; especially qualifications and board certification, which – provided they are legitimate – show you that a surgeon is truly eligible to perform your surgery. I feel very strongly, however, that personal recommendations go a long way towards telling you whether a surgeon is a good match for you.

Human interest

You could spend hours reading plastic surgeon’s biographies on the internet, and if you are serious about finding the best surgeon then you probably will, but there is only so much information you can glean from these online CVs.

Reading reviews from past patients can help you to understand how that surgeon interacts with his patients – from his/her bedside manner to his/her understanding and interpretation of their needs. You can find out whether s/he did a good job, in the patient’s eyes, and how available they were post-op, if the patient had any concerns.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

Of course, if you have narrowed it down to one or two surgeons, at the consultation stage it might be worth asking if any of their past patient’s are willing to be contacted.

Many patients will understand that you want to be totally sure before booking your surgery and will be happy to reassure you, if they think the surgeon performed well.

You should also ask to see before and after images from previous similar surgeries, so you can see whether this surgeon is able to achieve the sort of look you are after – although you must always be aware that any surgeon’s abilities will be limited to what they can achieve with your particular physiology.

What to ask at a cosmetic surgery consultation

It can be very difficult to know what questions to ask at a consultation with a cosmetic surgeon. Many people feel that they are there to be assessed by the surgeon, but in fact the opposite is just as true – this is as much an opportunity for you to decide if this is the right surgeon for you as it is for the surgeon to decide whether you are a suitable candidate for surgery.

Here is a selection of some good questions to ask your surgeon.

1. How many times have you performed this procedure?

You want to be sure that your surgeon is highly experienced in the specific surgery you are looking for. Of course, if it is a new or unusual technique, you might find that most surgeons have only performed it a few times, but for a procedure like breast augmentation or facelift surgery, a good surgeon should have performed the surgery many times over and be able to show you the photographs to prove it.

2. What is your complication rate?

All surgery carries a risk, and it is likely that most surgeons will have seen complications as a result of an operation they have performed at some point. However, if a surgeon’s complication rate is unusually high, this may be a cause for concern and it is important to probe a little deeper. Ask about the types of complication experienced, why they happened and how it was dealt with.

3. What sort of aftercare can I expect?

Although of course most people want to get back to normal life as soon as possible after surgery, complications do happen as mentioned above and it is important that you are able to contact your surgeon or a member of his/her team should this arise. A good surgeon will not only see you at regular intervals after surgery to check on your progress, but s/he will also be available to speak to should you have any concerns during your recovery period.

How do I find a cosmetic surgeon?

In the UK, cosmetic surgery which aims to enhance or alter the physical appearance and is not necessary medically, is performed in the private sector. This means that unlike procedures offered by the NHS, you are free to choose your own cosmetic surgeon.

This has many benefits, but it can also prove a daunting challenge. The internet can be a fantastic source of information, but how do you distinguish a good cosmetic surgeon and, even more importantly, one that will be right for you.

Here’s some steps to follow when searching for a cosmetic surgeon:

# 1. Nothing beats a personal recommendation

Speak to friends and family and find out if they have undergone a similar procedure to you and ask for their recommendations. This can be difficult in that you may not wish to discuss your plans with all and sundry and also former plastic surgery patients often do not wish to share their experiences because they are keen to keep their decision private.

Ask your surgeon if you can speak to other patients they have treated with a similar procedure to share their experiences. Most surgeons will be happy to put you in touch with patients they have treated who can give you further information on the treatment they’ve undertaken.

The internet can step in here in the form of cosmetic surgery forums where prospective and former patients can share their experiences and ask questions. Certain sites such as Realself and Sofeminine are good examples. However, it is essential that you approach these sites with caution. Sometimes a cosmetic surgery procedure does not fulfil the expectations of the patient, despite the best efforts of the surgeon.

# 2. Check your cosmetic surgeon’s qualifications

When you start researching practitioners that provide cosmetic surgery it can often be confusing to decipher what the different medical qualifications mean. The best guide is to look for the letters FRCS (Plast) after your surgeon’s name and that they are registered on the Plastic Surgery Specialist Register of the General Medical Council (GMC) [add external link] This means, like Consultant Plastic Surgeon Mr Paul Tulley, they will have undergone a lengthy specialist training of at least 8 – 10 years in the NHS in all aspects of plastic surgery, including cosmetic and a wide range of reconstructive surgery.

They should also show a strong interest in cosmetic surgery, in that they have completed a specialist fellowship in cosmetic surgery and continue to maintain knowledge of the most up-to-date techniques.

# 3. What memberships do they hold?

There are a couple of independent plastic surgery organisations in the UK and it is expected that your cosmetic surgeon is a member of at least one of these organisations. The leading plastic surgery organisations in the UK are the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS) and British Association of Plastic Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons (BAPRAS). Membership of these organisations means that they are on the specialist register and annual safety audits are performed, giving you further assurance of their experience and standards.