Please Don’t Call Me a Plastic Surgeon
The field of cosmetic surgery has increased at an exponential rate over the past several decades. Many paradigm shifts have occurred and this has changed the entire landscape of aesthetic surgery. If a practitioner that performed aesthetic surgery procedures 40 years ago were to spend a day in my office they would be amazed by the new changes and technology. Botox, lasers, endoscopic surgery, injectable fillers are just a few of the changes that have improved the profession.
Also among the changes is the fact that numerous specialties include aesthetic surgery in their core curriculum. These procedures are taught in most residency programs to ophthalmologists, dermatologists, ENT docs, plastic surgeons, oral and maxillofacial surgeons and gynecologists to name a few. In most of these specialties, cosmetic surgery procedures are part of the resident’s training, they are part of the board exams for those specialties and they are covered under the malpractice policies for those specialties. Contemporary educators will freely admit that aesthetic surgery is well within the accepted scope of numerous specialties. No single specialty owns the body or the face and each of these specialties have brought advancements to the collective table of aesthetic surgery. For instance, dermatologists pioneered laser surgery and invented tumescent liposuction. The current American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons were originally founded by oral surgeons and physicians and was called the American Society of Oral Surgeons until 1931. Oral and maxillofacial surgeons also made significant advanced in aesthetic skeletal surgery and facial implants. Ophthalmologists have contributed many techniques for cosmetic eyelid surgery and gynecologists have introduced or improved cosmetic vaginal surgery. ENT physicians have advanced the field of cosmetic nose surgery on a continual basis. The list goes on and anyone that disagrees with the fact that contemporary aesthetic surgery is a multispecialty realm simply has their head in the sand or has intentions of secondary gain, such as limiting the competition, turf battles, and the desire to control patients and dollars.
So…what is “plastic surgery” and how does it differ from “aesthetic surgery” or “cosmetic surgery”? A Plastic Surgeon is a noun (or could be an adjective) that describes a surgical specialty of medicine. When used as to describe a type of surgery it has a much broader definition. Any surgery that is intended to improve form, replace or restore missing or damaged tissue can also be called “plastic surgery”. So, having said that, if one calls them self a plastic surgeon, it should indicate that they performed a general surgery residency and then a plastic surgery residency and they would be considered a plastic surgeon. There are, however, exceptions. Otolaryngologists (ENT’s) changed the name of their specialty to “facial plastic surgery” and ophthalmologists developed a specialty designation of “oculoplastic surgery”. These practitioners often refer to themselves as “plastic surgeons”. Other specialties will surely follow this lead in the future to represent their contemporary scope.
In my situation, I am a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon. I am very proud of my unique qualifications to provide aesthetic facial surgery. My early dental training (I never practiced general dentistry, but had to have a dental degree to enter a maxillofacial surgery residency) gave me excellent dexterity and artistic perspective as well as four years of studying facial anatomy. My oral and maxillofacial surgery residency provided me not only with medical and surgical training, but also with an unparalleled level of head and neck anatomy and expertise in that region. I feel that my specialty has an intense level of head and neck training (if not more) than any specialty. As with any specialty, a surgeon can decide to focus on specific areas that he or she likes to do or excels in. My true love is cosmetic facial surgery and over the years it became a bigger and bigger part of my practice and in 2004, I limited my practice to only cosmetic facial surgery. If a doctor does nothing but cosmetic facial surgery then I believe it is practical to refer to them as a cosmetic facial surgeon.
One huge misconception is that “plastic surgery” is synonymous with cosmetic surgery. This could not be further from the truth. Some plastic surgeons have excellent cosmetic surgery training and do a lot of cosmetic surgery. Others have very little cosmetic surgery training and do very little cosmetic surgery. Remember, plastic surgery is not necessarily cosmetic surgery. I have some plastic surgery friends that are excellent at cosmetic procedures and do a bunch and others that are not so proficient and do more reconstructive and wound surgery instead of cosmetic procedures
In reality, it is not about the specialty, it is about one’s training and expertise in what they do. A poor cosmetic surgeon does not stay in business long regardless of the specialty.
Why don’t I want to be referred to as a plastic surgeon? The reason is simple. Number one, that is not my specialty and I have no need to feign credentials. Number two and most important, I limit my practice to cosmetic facial surgery and “plastic surgery” is not necessarily cosmetic surgery, so if I did attempt to call myself a plastic surgeon, it would be detrimental to my practice as it would indicate that I do not spend 100% of my time doing cosmetic facial surgery. The third reason that I do not want to be called a plastic surgeon is that I have many plastic surgery friends on a local, national and international level and it would be an affront to them and their training. Most plastic surgeons are pretty sharp people and do some amazing reconstructive procedures all over the body, but having that specialty designation does not automatically imply proficiency in aesthetic surgery.
The real bottom line is that numerous specialties perform competent and safe cosmetic surgery. That can’t be disputed. Some competitive practitioners who are still fighting the worn out turf battles will attempt to say that other specialties have more complications, but again, the people that usually are saying this are the ones with the most complications.
So, I am not a plastic surgeon, but no one can dispute that my practice is limited exclusively to cosmetic plastic surgery procedures of the head and neck.
I am quite happy and secure being a board certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon and a DMD that only does cosmetic facial surgery. It is very difficult for any practitioner of any specialty to limit their practice solely to cosmetic surgery and very few ever get to that point. It is even more difficult to limit a practice to cosmetic procedures of the face and neck because not doing body surgery significantly reduces available surgical options. I am proud to be one of the few surgeons of any specialty in my state to have a practice limited to cosmetic facial surgery, as well as one of the busiest. I am also proud to be a fellow of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery and the American Society of Laser Medicine and Surgery. I am proud to have published and lectured on cosmetic surgery more in the last decade than most of my naysayers will in their lifetime. I am proud of my most recent textbook, which has set sales records and has sold well to all the recognized cosmetic specialties. Cosmetic facial surgery is my passion, my life’s work, my job and my hobby. I teach cosmetic facial surgery (to all specialties including plastic surgeons) at over 20 venues a year. This sounds like bragging, but it isn’t; instead it is passion. I love cosmetic surgery, I love going to work, I love the patients and I love operating. Finally, this is how I feed my family and take care of the numerous expenses required by being the father of two severely handicapped children. This I take the most seriously.
I do what I do well. It is not a problem to call me a cosmetic facial surgeon because all I do, all day; every day is cosmetic facial surgery. But please don’t call me a plastic surgeon. It does not accurately describe a practice that exclusively performs cosmetic surgery.
To find out more about cosmetic facial surgery by Dr. Joe Niamtu in Richmond, Virginia visit www.lovethatface.com
Joe Niamtu, III DMD