Decoding The Authenticity Of A Plastic Surgeon

By: Dr. Lindsey Tavakolian


I was chatting with a patient of mine this week and she was telling me about a “plastic surgeon” on social media that had garnered a big following and was becoming very popular. She did a quick check into the surgeon’s credentials and their medical credentials were limited to dentistry. Just days before this conversation I had gone down my own rabbit hole on instagram after I discovered a “doctor” performing plastic surgery procedures was in reality a nurse. This nurse had received a doctorate in nursing and proceeded to advertise herself as Dr. X and offer plastic surgery to the unsuspecting, trusting patient. 

Al Aly Lindsey Tavakolian

How Do They Get Away With It?

The relationship between the law and medicine is complex. My understanding of the law is that a doctor (someone who has graduated from medical school - MD or DO) can practice in any field of medicine legally as long as they do not falsely advertise themselves as having credentials/qualifications that they don’t. For example, I am a plastic surgeon but it is legal for me to perform brain surgery as long as I do not lie about my training. If a hospital and a patient agree, I can perform brain surgery on the patient despite my credentials being in plastic surgery (perhaps tucked away on my website and craftily worded). That concept sounds wild but outside of plastic surgery it doesn’t seem to cause many problems because of other checks and balances in the system. One of those checks is that most hospitals and surgery centers have a credentialing process that does not allow a doctor to operate outside of their training. For example, my husband Paul is an orthopedic surgeon and each hospital and surgery center that he takes his patients to will only allow him to perform surgeries that fall within his training. There is a document that actually lists off the surgeries that he is allowed to perform in each hospital. I am personally credentialed at several hospitals and during the credentialing process a document was created that clearly delineated the surgeries that I am allowed to perform - all plastic surgery procedures that fall within the purview of my training. 

In the world of plastic surgery it is common for the plastic surgeon to own a facility with an operating room. For an honest plastic surgeon this is fantastic because it keeps the cost to the patient lower (no big surgery center/hospital bills), but for the dishonest person this is an opportunity to go unchecked by a hospital or surgery center credentialing process. Now, there should be consequences at the level of the medical board for practicing outside of your scope of training, but how imposters evade this is something I don’t know the details of.

There exists a spectrum of doctors out there practicing medicine in a way that does not reflect their training. It is all around you. I know of two cash pay/concierge medical practices just miles away from my office that a little googling revealed both of the doctors were residency dropouts. Meaning - they never completed a medical or surgical residency in any field. They quit after intern year. Medicine is a little like the Wild West in ways.

If you watched Grey’s Anatomy you may already be tracking with me and know exactly what intern year means, what a residency is, and maybe even understand the concept of a fellowship. For those of you that don’t, let me help you understand the legitimate ways to become a plastic surgeon. 


Speaking of Grey’s Anatomy, my husband Paul and I met during my intern year and we took this picture on the helipad at Parkland before he left for Fel

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