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As I return home from the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic meeting, I’m reflecting on something that I heard at the meeting — “The surgeon is key.” This statement was actually made in reference to Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma (ALCL) and why or how it occurs, but I think it is also an important statement with regards to how we choose a plastic surgeon or any physician for that matter.

Why is the Surgeon a Key Deciding Factor?

Surgery is not without risk, and all of us want to minimize postoperative complications and have successful outcomes. We, as surgeons, rely on our training and experience for technique and skill to perform optimal procedures.

With that in mind, it is more important than ever to choose a skilled surgeon that you can trust. This is your one and only body, and the physician you choose can have long-lasting effects on you.

Most patients have questions of, “Do I trust him or her?,” “Is she qualified?,” “Do I like the staff?” However, there are so many things to consider when choosing a plastic surgeon. I would like to speak generally about how to choose the best surgeon for you and your procedure and hopefully help guide you through the decision process.

Qualifications of a Plastic Surgeon

To become a plastic surgeon, one must complete four years of college, four years of medical school, at least three years of general surgery residency, and at least three years of plastic surgery residency. Many individuals will also complete additional years of training that are referred to as fellowships — these fellowships allow an individual to focus on one area of interest for an entire year.

After having completed this training, a plastic surgeon will then take a written board exam followed by an oral board exam to obtain board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Furthermore, as plastic surgeons, we have to maintain our board certification by taking additional exams throughout the time we are in practice —this is referred to as Maintenance of Certification.

Where do I fit into these requirements? Here’s additional information about me and my experience:

Dr. Anu Bajaj, M.D.

I attended Rice University for my undergraduate degree and completed medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. I then completed an integrated general surgery and plastic surgery residency at Loma Linda University Medical Center and then pursued my passion for microsurgery and reconstruction after cancer by completing a year-long fellowship at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I obtained by board certification in plastic surgery in 2005 and was recertified again in 2015.

Safety Requirements and Procedures

In addition to their surgeon’s qualifications, a prospective patient should ask questions related to the safety of the procedure. Some example questions include: Where is the surgery going to be performed? Is it an accredited facility? Who will be providing the anesthesia if anesthesia is required? Does the surgeon have the privilege to perform these surgical procedures at a hospital?

This last question is important because many plastic surgery procedures are performed at outpatient facilities or in a surgeon’s office. If an outpatient facility is accredited, then it is required to maintain the safety standards set by the accrediting body. Also, if a surgeon is able to perform the same surgical procedures at a hospital, that surgeon has undergone a vetting process by the hospital which has reviewed his or her case lists, malpractice data, peer recommendations, etc.

At Bajaj Plastic Surgery, I perform my cosmetic procedures at my accredited office-based operating room. I have privileges in plastic surgery at many area hospitals including St. Anthony Hospital, INTEGRIS, Surgery Center of Oklahoma, and Mercy Hospital.

Two women on Dr. Bajaj's staff
Skill Sets of Surgeons

I’ve always thought that the best people to attest to a surgeon’s skill are those who work with him or her in the operating room. These people are the nurses, scrub techs, and other physicians who can observe firsthand the operative plan, execution, and the management of a patient.

As a patient, you want a surgeon who can make decisions and act effectively in the stressful environment of the operating room. However, most people don’t have access to this type of information before an operation. So, what can you do to find out this kind of information? You can talk to other patients, see before and after photos, and talk to other physicians.

However, I think that sometimes it is almost more important to see how a surgeon manages complications or events that are out of the ordinary than the routine procedure. If a surgeon can manage a difficult problem well, then the simple one is even simpler. For example, my foundation in reconstructive surgery after cancer has given me an understanding of anatomy and aesthetics, which truly aids me as I perform a “routine” breast augmentation or other procedures.

Location for Follow-up Visits

Most patients will choose a surgeon who practices locally. However, if you choose to travel to see your surgeon, I advise patients that they must be willing to travel back to see that surgeon for follow-up care. If surgery goes well, this is typically not an issue. However, if there are complications or a slower recovery than anticipated that require more frequent follow-up visits, it can become inconvenient and costly.

The Surgeon’s Philosophy

The more you know about a surgeon and their passions, the more it can help you ultimately decide if they are the right fit for you. Here is my story and how I fell in love with plastic surgery.

I became a plastic surgeon because I fell in love with the “putting people back together” aspect of plastic surgery. I used to observe surgeries where the cancer surgeons removed large cancers; then, the plastic surgeon would come and restore the patient with different types of reconstructive procedures.

Today, my practice focuses more on aesthetic surgery, but the same love for the specialty is there — each surgery presents its unique challenges, but the end result is about making a difference in someone’s life. It’s still about the patient, you.

My approach is that each of us may have something that bothers us and makes us insecure. With plastic surgery, we have the ability to improve those things and become more confident and self-assured. My goal is also for patients to have a natural-appearing result — the goal of plastic surgery shouldn’t be to change who you are, but rather to become a better version of yourself.

The Surgeon’s Personality

Most patients may refer to this as “bedside manner” or that intangible quality about a surgeon. One of my nurses says to patients, “We aren’t your friends, but if we become friends along the way, that is a great thing.” I think that this concept is important to understand.

As your medical provider, I, or my nurses, may have to have difficult conversations with you regarding your care and recovery. We have these conversations with you because we care about you and want to ensure that you have the best possible outcome and minimize the risks of complications.

These conversations may include advising you to quit smoking before and after surgery, maintaining your nutrition and eating a healthy diet, or walking regularly during your recovery. We are here to take care of you, and sometimes that means you will hear things that you don’t want to hear. So, while we will be caring and understanding, we may not always be your friends.

Friendly and Knowledgeable Staff

My staff is an extension of me. My nurses, surgery scheduler, and receptionist are in the office at times when I may be in the operating room. They are here to answer your questions and direct you in the right direction when the questions are beyond them. I believe that not only should you respect the surgeon, but also you should like the staff — they should be pleasant and responsive.

My nurses are Amber, Petra, and Danelle. Lucinda is our surgery scheduler and insurance coordinator, and Skyler is our receptionist.

I hope that this information is informative and helpful. If you should have further questions, please let us know and schedule a consultation.

Creating Outcomes That Enhance Your Natural Beauty