How to Have a SAFE Plastic Surgery Procedure

I came up with a mnemonic for SAFE PLASTIC SURGERY. Today I will cover the “SAFE” part of the phrase.

S: Summarize the changes you want to see in yourself.

Make a detailed list, or even diagrams, of which feature(s) you do not like or wish to improve. Photographs of features can be used to communicate your ideas with your surgeon. However, keep in mind that photographs are only reference points. Features you might find attractive on someone else might not look natural on you. Try to be as specific as possible when listing the changes you would like to see.

A: Assess your readiness for surgery.

Questions to ask yourself are: “Am I really ready? Am I emotionally, physically and financially prepared for surgery? Do I have adequate time set aside for proper recovery?”

It is best to have relative stability in your life before undergoing plastic surgery. If you have serious concerns such as a recent loss of a loved one, divorce, or unplanned job or career changes, it may not be the right time to contemplate plastic surgery. The following is a list of points that will help you decide whether you are ready to undergo plastic surgery:

1. “I want to look good and feel better about myself.”

Some people feel and look better after buying new clothes or a new car, having sex, or eating a great meal. I do recommend that if the desired improvements can be obtained through diet and exercise, this should be attempted first.

2. “Someone else is complaining about my appearance.”

This is not a good reason to have plastic surgery. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” (Hungerford). What one person sees as a physical characteristic in need of improvement may appear as your best feature to another.

3. “I am depressed.”

This is not a good reason to contemplate plastic surgery. As mentioned earlier, emotional stability is the key to having successful surgery.

4. “I need it to save my job, marriage or relationship.”

While one’s job or marriage might be well worth saving, undergoing surgery is definitely not the answer. If you believe your job or marriage is in jeopardy, try to get to the core of the problem. Make a point of speaking with your boss, husband, or wife. You might find that once things are resolved or are resolving you may no longer want to have plastic surgery.

5. “I can see a problem.”

This may be a good reason to undergo surgery. However, I advise caution as it could lead to an ongoing desire for more surgery simply because you think you see a problem.

6. “I expect improvement but not perfection.”

This is a good starting point for anyone considering plastic surgery. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve what you already have.

7. “I have support from my family and friends.”

Having support from friends and family is important when undergoing any surgical procedure. Keep in mind that seeking support is different from wanting approval.

8. “I am financially stable.”

Cosmetic surgery is a luxury. It is not worth having plastic surgery only to be left in debt. Not only do you need to financially plan for the surgery, but you also need to plan for the possibility, unlikely as it might be, of complications, which may add to recovery time as well as to financial responsibilities.

9. “Do I have the time?”

When assessing their recovery, most patients consider simply the length of the actual operation. I am constantly reminding patients that surgery includes consultation, preoperative preparation, the operation itself and the recovery period. Physical recovery alone can last anywhere from one to three weeks and, in some cases, longer. Emotional and psychological adjustment may take at least four to six weeks.

Use these ideas as guidelines when considering plastic surgery. Feel free to add to this list.

F: Find the right plastic surgeon.

I cannot stress this enough: There are many highly qualified doctors currently in practice; there are many inferior doctors practicing as well. Numerous sources are available to help you find a good plastic surgeon. Avoid relying on the Yellow Pages or similar advertising. Instead, obtain a referral from a family doctor who knows surgeon with the right qualifications and reputation. A friend, co-worker or relative who has had the same procedure you are contemplating can be a good reference, especially if they are pleased with their result. A referral from your local or national plastic surgery society is another source, as well as a referral from a local hospital or medical association.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons (ASPRS) has a free nationwide referral service that is available to anyone who is interested. You can call (800) 766-4955, or write to ASPRS, 444 East Algonquin Road, Arlington Heights, IL 60005-4664. In California, you can call the California Society of Plastic Surgeons.

E: Evaluating the surgeon.

Cosmetic surgery is still surgery, and once in a great while things can go wrong. If this happens, a qualified surgeon can, and usually does, keep you out of serious trouble. During and after a surgical procedure, a qualified surgeon can identify and treat problems before they become serious. This is why it is important to take the time to properly evaluate prospective surgeons. Check qualifications and credentials completely. Call or visit your local medical library and consult The Directory of Medical Specialists, which lists board-certified surgeons by state and details each surgeon’s education, training, and memberships in professional organizations. ASPRS is an excellent source to utilize. To be a member, ASPRS surgeons are certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, have completed undergraduate and medical school, as well as an approved general surgery program of at least three years, and an approved plastic surgery residency of two to three years. Board certification is achieved after completion of a written and an oral examination. Look for the ASPRS emblem when selecting your plastic surgeon.

During your consultation, scan the office for plaques displaying diplomas and board-certification documents. Most surgeons are proud of their achievements and are happy to display them. In addition, you can ask the doctor’s staff for information. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the procedure in question so, when discussing it with the doctor, you understand the medical terms. Information regarding accredited surgeons, facilities, and available operative procedures may be accessed through the internet at, or by calling the numbers listed below:

American Board of Plastic Surgery: (215) 587-9322

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: (800) 635-0635

Do not be afraid to ask any questions-what you don’t know can hurt you! ASPRS suggests asking a plastic surgeon the following questions:

– Are you certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery?

– How long have you been in practice?

– Do you have hospital privileges to perform this procedure? At which hospital

– Where will you perform my surgery?

– What are the risks involved with my procedure?

– How many procedures of this type have you performed?

– May I contact some of your former patients who have had this procedure?

– How long of a recovery period can I expect?

– Will I be required to take time off from work? For how long?

– How much will my procedure cost?

At a minimum, confirm that the surgeon is board certified, performs surgery in an accredited facility, and is recommended by someone you know and trust.