An Open Letter to NewBeauty Magazine: Stop Misleading the Public

February 9, 2015 |

Dear NewBeauty,

In theory, we are on the same side of a critical issue: the importance of choosing a qualified surgeon to perform a cosmetic procedure. However, we must take issue with your recent article, “Not All Doctors Are The Same,” (NewBeauty, Winter/Spring 2015, p.194). The article contained factual inaccuracies, misinformation, and incorrectly casts doubt on ABCS board certification.

In this series of infographics, you mislead the public in several ways:

1. The foundation of your article, which is focused entirely on cosmetic surgery, is that American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) certified surgeons are the only safe choice for patients seeking aesthetic procedures. How can you make this blanket statement when ABPS certification does not guarantee adequate training and testing in cosmetic surgery? Read more.

2. You claim that properly certified plastic surgeons do not refer to themselves as “cosmetic surgeons,” which is simply untrue. “Cosmetic surgeon” describes a practice focus and should not be vilified. Read more.

3. You are wrong to include our board name in “lingo to look out for.” Your article creates an inaccurate correlation between American Board of Cosmetic Surgery certification and doctors without cosmetic surgery training when, in fact, ABCS is the only board which requires cosmetic surgery-specific training. Certification by the ABCS requires prior board certification followed by one to two years of fellowship training, during which time surgeons must complete at least 300 documented cosmetic surgery procedures to be considered for certification. Read more.

4. You state that certification by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) makes a doctor a “right” option, yet you endorse other non-ABMS recognized boards in the same list. Read more.

ABCS-new-beauty-infographic_lg

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery is committed to patient safety and ensuring those seeking cosmetic procedures have access to surgeons who are experienced and qualified. Your article’s inaccurate assessment of board certified cosmetic surgeons is a disservice to the public.

1. Plastic surgery board certification does not guarantee adequate cosmetic surgery experience.

The truth is this: although the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) does not readily admit it, a physician can become board certified in plastic surgery without adequate education, training, or experience with respect to many common cosmetic surgery procedures.

Board certification by the ABPS demonstrates a surgeon’s education, training, and experience with respect to reconstructive plastic surgery, such as correcting birth defects or physical trauma to restore normal function. However, it does not indicate the same thing with respect to cosmetic surgery. In fact, ABPS candidates are not required to demonstrate knowledge of cosmetic surgery when they sit for their certification exam.

What does this mean for public safety? It means you are suggesting a potential breast augmentation patient blindly choose a surgeon simply because they have been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. The truth is, said surgeon may have no or insufficient formal training or experience in placing breast implants. You are setting a dangerous precedent by attaching the completion of a plastic surgery residency to competency in cosmetic surgery and putting cosmetic surgery patients at risk.

While you may not recognize the formal cosmetic training deficiency that exists within the traditional plastic surgery residency program, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) itself does. In a study published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery® (a journal published by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons), ASPS found that 49% of senior plastic surgery residents felt unprepared to integrate cosmetic surgery into their practice upon graduation.1

2. Cosmetic surgery indicates a specialty.

Your article states that cosmetic surgeons should be avoided, but “cosmetic surgeon” is not a term that should be demonized; it merely denotes a practice focus. Both American Board of Plastic Surgery and ABCS board certified surgeons will often choose to make it clear they solely offer cosmetic surgery procedures by calling themselves “cosmetic surgeons.”

When seeking a surgeon, the most important criteria are proper training and experience, not self-applied adjectives.

For clarification:

Plastic Surgery—A surgical specialty dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, infection and disease, intended to correct dysfunctional areas of the body and restore normal function.

Example procedures: cleft palate correction, skin grafting, skin cancer removal, carpal tunnel relief.

Cosmetic Surgery—A surgical specialty focused on enhancing the appearance of all areas of the face, neck, breasts, and body for improved aesthetic appeal, symmetry, and proportion. Treated areas have normal functionality and cosmetic surgery is elective.

Example procedures: breast augmentation, rhinoplasty (nose surgery), facelift, abdominoplasty (tummy tuck), nonsurgical cosmetic treatments such as laser skin resurfacing or BOTOX® and dermal filler injections.

Why it matters:

Plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are fundamentally different surgical specialties, utilizing different techniques to achieve different goals. That’s why it’s necessary for both the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery AND the American Board of Plastic Surgery to exist.

3. The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery exists to certify experienced, fellowship-trained cosmetic surgeons and thereby help the public identify reputable surgeons. It is factually inaccurate to conflate our board with untrained practitioners.

Your misleading infographics fail to recognize the important distinction between non-specialty trained cosmetic surgeons and American Board of Cosmetic Surgery certified cosmetic surgeons. The ABCS is the only board that requires its surgeons to display knowledge and experience in cosmetic surgery procedures by:

American Board of Cosmetic Surgery Education Timeline

Whereas the residency requirements for certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery do not formally require cosmetic surgery training, surgeons seeking ABCS board certification focus entirely on cosmetic surgery during their fellowship. It is during this extensive training period that ABCS candidate surgeons are required to perform at least 300 cosmetic procedures, allowing them to focus entirely on aesthetic enhancements of the breast, body, and face. Additionally, they receive in-depth training in nonsurgical cosmetic procedures, including BOTOX® and dermal filler injectable treatments, laser resurfacing, and skin care. This specialized training denotes a surgeon’s desire to focus their patient care on cosmetic surgery.

4. You cannot logically claim that American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) membership is the standard for “right” and the definition of “properly board certified” while simultaneously stating that specialties not recognized by the ABMS serve the public well.

And yet you do. For editorial clarity, by what standard are you including cosmetic dentists, hair restoration surgeons, and facial surgeons as “right” options? None of these specialties are endorsed by the American Board of Medical Specialties. This is confusing and contradictory in nature. It is also worth noting that the American Board of Medical Specialties is a private, self-regulated organization and is not affiliated with the federal government.

The inclusion of these other specialties while the ABCS is grouped under the “wrong” category makes us further question the value of your article. If the standard for inclusion in your article is that the group be one of your paid advertisers, then your list makes sense. Short of that, we see no logic to the organizations you’ve chosen to place in a positive light.

The Bottom Line: The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery Agrees that Patients Should Avoid Untrained Surgeons

The American Board of Cosmetic Surgery is committed to patient safety and, like the American Board of Plastic Surgery and NewBeauty, stresses that unqualified and untrained surgeons should be viewed with caution.

Given that ABCS board certification is the only certification that guarantees formal training in cosmetic surgery, patients should absolutely consider American Board of Cosmetic Surgery certified surgeons when seeking cosmetic procedures.


Morrison, C., Rotemberg, S., Moreira-Gonazlaez, A., & Zins, J. (2008). A Survey of Cosmetic Surgery Training in Plastic Surgery Programs of the United States. Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 122(5), 1570-1578.