Federal court upholds the right of plastic surgeons to promote ABPS board certification

Federal court upholds the right of plastic surgeons to promote ABPS board certification
Intensive training and experience is the key to plastic surgery safety.

A billboard depicts a tearful woman saying, "I didn't know my cosmetic surgeon wasn't a plastic surgeon." This is the most visible part of an ad campaign launched by the Utah Board of Plastic Surgery to increase public awareness that all plastic surgeons are not created equal. Basically, there are those with board certification in plastic surgery from the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and those that label themselves "cosmetic" or "plastic surgeons," but come from different specialties and are certified by different boards.

Dr. Drake Vincent and Dr. Benjamin Dunkley, two Utah cosmetic surgeons who lack ABPS certification took offense at the ad campaign, claiming that it questioned their credentials and was part of a conspiracy to drive non-ABPS certified surgeons out of the cosmetic surgery market. They launched an antitrust case against the organizations and plastic surgeons promoting ABPS board certification.

Vincent and Dunkley specifically complained about billboards, Internet advertisements, and statements made to a local news station that pointed out the risks of having procedures performed by surgeons who have not been certified by the ABPS.

On September 5, 2013, the federal court dismissed the case because the complaint failed to show that the defendants' actions had an anticompetitive effect on the cosmetic surgery market. According to the court the advertisements simply informed potential customers that Vincent and Dunkley were not plastic surgeons. The court noted that the ultimate decision about from whom to purchase cosmetic surgery services remains with the consumer. Therefore, according to the court, Vincent and Dunkley were not excluded from the market in any real sense by the defendants' ad campaign. Further, the judge also noted there was no allegation of actual damages. The fact that the two doctors claimed their practices had "cooled" as a result of the campaign was insufficient.

The American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) not only applauds this court decision but congratulates its Utah members and colleagues for taking a stand for patient safety. Certification, by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), is an assurance of a commitment to safety and education. Cosmetic surgeons from other specialties, while practicing legally for the most part, may lack the training and experience to deliver the same results as ABPS-certified surgeons.
If you're considering plastic surgery, keep in mind

  1. ABPS is one of the 24 specialty boards recognized by ABMS. It is the only ABMS board that grants certification to treat plastic and reconstructive surgery of the head and neck, trunk and extremities.
  2. ABPS-certified surgeons complete a minimum of five years of surgical training following medical school, including an accredited plastic surgery residency program.
  3. Members of ASAPS are in at least their third year of active practice following ABPS certification.