Three words summarize the most important characteristics to look for when choosing a cosmetic or plastic surgeon: qualifications, experience and comfort.
1. Qualifications count - Medical professionals in the United States have well-defined, stringent requirements for their professional training in every specialty. Cosmetic surgeons are accredited by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (www.americanboardcosmeticsurgery.org) and plastic surgeons are accredited by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (www.abplsurg.org). The first thing you need to do is check on these Web sites to make sure the physician you are considering is fully accredited.
Basic accreditation is only the beginning of assuring a physician's qualifications. You'll want to go to your state's Medical Board to make sure there are no malpractice suits or complaints registered against the physician. For a listing of state medical boards, go to www.fsmb.org.
Finally, involvement in professional associations indicates that a physician is keeping pace with changes in the profession. Look at the physician's biography to see if s/he is a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, American Society of Plastic Surgeons, American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, or other professional organization in these fields.
2. Experience matters - The best indicator of how well a physician performs a particular procedure is how frequently s/he has performed it in the past. Make sure you ask about the doctor's experience doing the specific procedure you are considering with the particular techniques s/he is recommending. And don't just get a count. Find out how many of those procedures were successful. Talk to past patients to get a first-hand account of their experience with the physician. Look at the before and after pictures and draw your own conclusion.
3. Comfort rules - Even if a physician is fully qualified and experienced with a procedure, that person may not be right for you. You need a physician who communicates openly with you, answers your questions and gives you the time you need to understand the technicalities. You need a physician who appears to have the same expectation for the outcome as you do. Most importantly, you need a person you can trust to advise you when the choices aren't black and white. Be sure you are completely comfortable with your choice of a physician so that during stressful periods immediately before, during and after the surgery or procedure, you'll be taken care of the way you need.