Your Cosmetic Surgery Consultation


Valerie DeBenedette, Senior Medical Editor

Valerie DeBenedette is a science writer who specializes in keeping people informed about medicine and their health. She has more than 20 years of experience writing for newspapers, magazines, and websites and has written about most areas of medicine. For many years, she was a contributing writer to Cosmetic Dermatology and to Drug Topics, the leading pharmacy trade magazine. She also was a contributing editor to The Physician and Sportsmedicine for many years. She has written about most fields of medicine, including dermatology, sportsmedicine, ophthalmology, general surgery, orthopedics, and women's health; as well as public health policy and the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, she is the author of Caffeine, a book for young people. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

July 17 2007

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A consultation with a cosmetic surgeon is an important meeting for many reasons. It is a chance for you to meet with the doctor, to discuss your health and the cosmetic surgery procedure you are considering, and to ask questions.

The reason you are consulting with a cosmetic surgeon is to determine if cosmetic surgery is right for you. You and the surgeon will sit down and discuss why you want a face lift or breast augmentation or whatever it is you want done.

You should think of the consultation as an information-gathering mission. The most important information you will get from the consultation is a general feel for the surgeon and his or her office staff. The consultation is a chance for you to establish rapport with both the doctor and the people in the office. You should feel that you are being treated well by the receptionist and other staff members, not just the surgeon.

Choosing Plastic Surgeon

Before your consultation, check out your plastic surgeon. Many plastic and cosmetic surgeons (or group practices) have their own websites. These sites usually give information about the surgeon's educational background and training, specialties, office locations and directions, and office hours. If you find your surgeon through, your personal image consultant will also provide you with detailed information on your surgeon's background and affiliations.

If the plastic surgeon is certified by a medical specialty board, which is a national professional organization, you can usually check that certification at that medical specialty board's website. You can also check on a surgeon with your state's medical board, which is the government agency in each state that licenses physicians. (A state medical board and a medical specialty board are two different things. Every doctor must be licensed by a state medical board, but not every doctor is certified by a medical specialty board. Find out more about the importance of board certification.

You can also use a search engine (such as Google or Yahoo) to look for information on your plastic surgeon. Bear in mind that if you see information about a lawsuit or a court case involving your surgeon, it may not mean anything, since most surgeons are sued for any number of reasons from time to time. If you see references to many malpractice suits, this should alert you to check your surgeon out more closely.

At the Consultation

The consultation is your time to ask questions of the surgeon. Bring a list of questions with you so that you don't get sidetracked and forget any. We have a list of questions to ask plastic surgeon that you might consider at the end of this page. You can print out this page and bring it with you.

You are not being rude by asking questions, even questions about your doctor's experience or training. No question is inappropriate. Ask anything. Do not be shy. The only stupid question is the one you don't ask. If the surgeon gives you a hard time over any questions you ask or seems evasive, take note of it.

Two topics you should bring up are what type of anesthesia will be used for your procedure and where the procedure will be performed. Ask who will administer the anesthesia—an anesthesiologist, the surgeon, or a nurse-anesthetist. Ask about that person's qualifications. If the surgery is to be performed outside of a hospital, ask about the accreditation of the surgical center. If the procedure will be done in the surgeon's office, ask to look at the operating room. You should also ask what hospital you would be admitted to if complications occur during the procedure.

Your consultation will involve a physical examination. If you are there to discuss facial surgery, this may be an examination of just your face. If you are considering body contouring or breast enhancement surgery, the surgeon will ask you to undress and put on an examination gown.

Your surgeon will also go over your medical history and ask questions about your general health and that of your family. It is a good idea, before your consultation, to create a list of any surgeries or illnesses you have had, with dates and other information, and bring it with you. Bring a list of all the medications you take, including vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal products. This list should include the dosage amounts and how often you take the medications. If you have ever had a problem with anesthesia, or if a close relative ever had a problem, tell the surgeon. Tell the surgeon if you have any allergies, especially allergies to medications or to latex.

Be honest with your surgeon. Tell him or her everything about your medical history and hide nothing. There is almost nothing that he or she has not heard before. The more accurate the information you give your plastic surgeon, the better it will be for both of you, since your medical history has an important bearing on the outcome of your surgery.

The consultation is your chance to discuss every aspect of the cosmetic surgery procedure that you want. Tell the surgeon what you want done and how you want to look when it is over. If you are having a face lift or other age-related procedure, bring photos of yourself from when you were younger.

If you are discussing breast augmentation, bring pictures from magazines or bring in a bra to show what size you want to be afterward. Breast augmentation surgeons usually have some breast implants on hand that can be placed in the bra to give you an idea of how you will look and feel.

Ask to look at plastic surgery before-and-after photos of people who have had the surgery you are considering. These photos should be clear and should not look as if they have been touched up. They should also have the person positioned the same way both before and after so that you can make a clear comparison.

Your plastic surgeon will discuss all the possible risks of your procedure. Listen carefully. Bad things very rarely happen during cosmetic surgery, but they can happen. It is part of your surgeon's job to tell you about the possible health risks of your procedure.

The consultation is also the time when your surgeon can help you keep your expectations realistic. Your surgeon will ask you about your reasons for having any type of cosmetic surgery. Some people have very unreasonable expectations for what they will look like after cosmetic surgery or what the effects of the surgery will be. If you are 50 years old and think a brow lift will make you look 20 again, that is unreasonable. If you think that having body contouring will make your spouse love you again, that is unreasonable. Cosmetic surgery can improve your appearance, but it cannot make you young again or change anything else in your life.

As you discuss your surgery, the surgeon may suggest other procedures that can help you achieve the look you want. Some people who want a nose job because they feel their nose is too large actually would benefit more from a chin implant, or a chin implant in addition to a nose job. However, you should never feel pressured to have other surgeries.

If you decide to have the cosmetic surgery procedure, you will be asked to sign an informed-consent document. Informed consent means that you are consenting to have the procedure and that you have been informed about all the possible risks and complications. This form may even be read aloud to you by the surgeon or someone on staff. In addition to signing this form, you may be asked to check off each section to indicate that you read it completely.

The key purpose to a consultation is to find out if you and your surgeon can work together well. After the consultation, ask yourself if you would trust your appearance and health with this surgeon. If you are at all unsure that the answer to that question is "yes," make appointments for consultations with other surgeons.

Questions to ask your plastic surgeon during the consultation:

  • How long have you been practicing as a cosmetic plastic surgeon?
  • By what boards are you certified? How long have you been board-certified?
  • Do you carry malpractice insurance?
  • Do you have an onsite surgery center? Is it accredited? May I see it?
  • At what hospitals are you on staff?
  • Do you have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals? If not, why? Have your hospital admitting privileges been revoked?
  • How many of the procedures I want have you performed, and how often do you perform them?
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used?
  • Who will administer anesthesia?
  • How often do you have to perform a revision for this procedure?
  • How many of the revisions you do are on your own work?
  • Is there any reason I would not be a good candidate for this surgery?
  • What are the risks of this particular procedure for me?
  • What complications are possible with this particular cosmetic plastic surgery?
  • Do you have a video of this procedure that I can watch?
  • Will there be much pain?
  • Will there be much bruising or swelling?
  • When can I expect to look well enough to go out in public?
  • When can I expect to see the final results of the procedure?
  • Will there be scars, and, if so, where?
  • How long do you recommend I take off from work, school, or my regular activities to heal properly?
  • When will I be able to exercise or take part in sports?
  • How much will this cost?
  • Are there any hidden costs this fee does not cover, such as lab work, postoperative visits, medications, or compression garments?
  • If there is a complication after the procedure and I need further treatment, what is covered by the original fee?
  • If I change my mind or cannot go through with the surgery as scheduled, will my money be refunded?
  • May I speak with any of your patients who had this particular procedure?
  • If any problems come up after the surgery, will you be the attending physician?
  • If my results are not what I wanted or if there is a complication, what is your policy on revisions?
  • (If the procedure you want involves an implant) What type or brand of implants do you want to use on me? Why do you want to use that type?
  • (For breast implants) What breast size do you recommend for my body frame and why?
  • (For breast implants) What shape breast implant do you recommend and why?
  • (For breast implants) What placement do you recommend and why?