In September 2011, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) launched a safety and awareness campaign to address the growing number of cases of unqualified physicians performing cosmetic surgeries, often with catastrophic results.
In 48 states, doctors who are not certified by the board of plastic surgeons may legally perform cosmetic and plastic procedures. The upsurge in instances of unqualified surgeons undertaking such operations speaks to both the high demand for the surgeries and to the high profit they command.
In 2010, approximately 17 million plastic and cosmetic surgeries were performed in the United States. Estimates suggest about 10 percent result in some level of disfigurement and even potentially life-threatening complications. In late September, ABCNews interviewed Dinora Rodriguez, 40, who was left with conjoined breasts after a botched surgery to replace her existing 10-year old implants. Shockingly, the surgeon also worked on the woman's eyelids, leaving Rodriguez with one eye that will not close as well as chronic dry eye. Rodriguez had not requested the eyelid procedure and the doctor did not have permission to perform it.
In this case, the doctor’s credentials illustrate a major loophole in how medical qualifications can be presented. The doctor did hold a license in California to perform plastic surgery, but she did not hold board certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgery. During breast augmentation surgery, an incision creates two pockets behind the chest muscles to hold the implants. With Rodriguez, one large pocket was formed, which allowed the implants to join, creating a single breast.
In the aftermath, when Rodriguez was not only disfigured, but in intense physical pain, the doctor insisted the surgery had gone well, and that the condition developed later due to weakness in the muscles from a previous surgery in 1998. After a year, however, a second doctor was able to successfully correct the damage. As a spokesperson for the ASPS safety campaign, Rodriguez told ABC that the initial doctor told her that her existing implants were leaking. Rodriguez believed her and because the doctor quoted the woman a good price, she agreed to the operation.
Please note that the only two associations that require members to be board-certified plastic surgeons from the American Board of Plastic Surgery are the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS).
The ASPS emphasizes that "white coat deception" places patients at significant risk. Simply because a person is a doctor does not mean they have the necessary qualifications to perform plastic surgery procedures. Many of the doctors engaged in this practice have taken isolated courses rather than undergoing six years of specific training and years of continuing education to keep up-to-date with advancements and refinements in given plastic surgery techniques.
By law, doctors are required to disclose their professional history. Patients should ask if the doctors has had any complaints lodged against them. Also find out:
Out of embarrassment, many people who have suffered from botched procedures do not take action against the offending doctor and settle the matter privately, which allows the physicians to continue working off the radar. Rodriguez, however, has filed a malpractice suit.
Unfortunately, it is up to the patient to protect themselves since the doctors are not, technically, breaking the law. Ethically, however, they are treading the finest of lines and abusing the trust of the people who place themselves at the mercy of the doctor's perceived, but questionable skills.
Learn all about Board Certifying Plastic Surgery Organizations & Associations