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THE CULT OF THE L.A. BODY : Shopping for a Doctor : Don't Just Look for a Liposuction Specialist in the Phone Book

January 17, 1988|Joyce Wadler

ANY licensed medical doctor--not just plastic surgeons--may legally perform suction lipectomy, or lipoplasty, in his or her office.

How do you decide what sort of doctor to choose?

For starters, Dr. Harvey Zarem, chief of the division of plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center, points out that a bit of caution is in order: A doctor who calls himself "board certified" in fact may not be certified in plastic surgery--or in any surgical specialty. To verify the doctor's credentials, consult a copy of the Directory of Medical Specialists at your local library.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons takes the position that board-certified plastic surgeons are best qualified to perform liposuction. The requirement for certification is three years of training in general surgery and an additional minimum of two years in plastic surgery, as well as written and oral examinations.

"To a man whose only tool is a hammer, all the world looks like a nail," says Dr. Simon Fredericks of Houston, who chaired the ASPRS report on liposuction. (The cost of a liposuction vacuum pump is an easily recovered $1,500 or so.) "I have great trouble with (doctors) who are not surgeons and go to weekend courses and have only one modality of treatment. Only a trained surgeon can determine whether someone needs, say, a tummy tuck or suctioning or reconstruction of the abdominal wall."

That view is echoed by Dr. Carson Lewis, executive director of the La Jolla-based Lipoplasty Society, whose members are board-certified plastic surgeons who have had additional training in lipoplasty. (The minimum is 14 hours or two days.)

"We believe that because of his background, a plastic surgeon is best qualified to do body contouring," says Lewis.

However, Dr. Michael Elam, an ear, nose and throat man and cosmetic surgeon who heads the American Society of Liposuction Surgery, disputes that view.

"The residency for ear, nose and throat is just as long as the residence for plastic surgery; it's not just taking out ear wax," Elam says. "These guys are parading around claiming they're trying to protect the lives of their patients. I don't know if I believe that as much as they're trying to protect their pocketbooks."

The requirements for membership in the American Society for Liposuction Surgery?

According to Elam, a doctor can be "from any medical or surgical specialty," including general surgery; ear, nose and throat; gynecology, and dermatology. He or she must have been in practice for five years and have performed more than 1,000 cosmetic surgeries.

The American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, (800) 635-0635, will supply a list of 10 board-certified plastic surgeons in the patient's area, as well as brochures on specific procedures.

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