How to Find/Choose the Best/Top Plastic Surgeon? Part 1: What does it take to become a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

Posted On 30 Mar, 2017 - By Robert Hardesty - With 0 Comments

Part 1: What does it take to become a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

I am often asked by friends, patients and those interested on how one becomes a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon.  How to choose The Best/Top Plastic Surgeon and what questions to ask during a consultation. Thus, I have created a 3 part document addressing each of these areas.


Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.25.00 PM.pngThe first step in becoming a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon is graduating from a accredited Medical School. This accreditation is under the auspice of the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC). The curriculum prepares the new Medical Doctor (M.D.) to:
- enter a specialized accredited training program (residency)leading to a Board Certification
- licensure by the State which requires only 1 year of post graduate (M.D.) training ( historically referred to as the "internship")

The next step is for the Medical Doctor is to get accepted into the very highly sought after and competitive Residency in Plastic Surgery.

The following outlines why the American Board of Plastic Surgery is the "gold standard"
and why it is the ONLY Board that is universally recognized by Universities, Medical Centers, Hospitals and ALL credentialing agencies.

The American Board of Medical Specialities (ABMS) is the only universally recognized organization that sets  the standards for American Board Certification and Certificates of Added Qualification in the United States. There are only 28 such recognized Boards for all of the Specialities in Medicine and 52 Certificates of added Qualification

Screen Shot 2017-03-14 at 10.27.32 PM.pngScreen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.02.32 PM.pngThe ABMS work in conjunction with the American Council of Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) in conjunction with the Plastic Surgery Residency Review Committee (RRC) which creates the curriculum and standards (both didactic and practical hands on training) in a Hospital based and Affiliated Academic Center of higher learning (most often a University)

There is only one such Board that MEETS ALL of the above criteria:

The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 12.41.27 PM.png
Only after completing a minimum of 6 years of post Medical Degree training at a accredited Residency Training Program and with required positive letter of recommendation from the Program Director, can the Plastic Surgery Trainee be allowed apply to the ABPS to be Board Certified in Plastic Surgery.

The  Board (ABPS) than tests the applicant with a extensive written exam (the qualifying exam). Annual average pass rate is in the mid 80% range.Only after passing this exam and presenting the ABPS a portfolio of actual patient stories, indications, pre/postoperative photos, operative reports, coding/billing information will a invitation be granted for a extensive oral exam (the certifying exam). Annual average pass rate is in the low 80% range.

Thus only after successfully completing each step ( graduating from a accredited Medical school, a accredited Plastic Surgery residency, successfully passing both a written exam and a oral exam) will a fully trained applicant be granted the prestigious Board Certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgeons.

There are several "self designated boards" and with similar sounding names, an example being the Am. Bd. of Cosmetic Surgery. These "self appointed"  Boards may claim equivalency but NONE have been sanctioned by the ABMS or meet ALL of above standards,training, requirements, criteria, and testing (as found above) as the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS)


Medical Societies were initially and  usually formed for the advancement of comprehensive post residency training.
Specialized Societies were formed for those who have received additional training, Board Certification and demonstrated a continued focus, expertise and commitment. Each specialized Society requires its own additional criteria beyond just Board Certification.

Medical Society Memberships can be:
1) General: local, regional and national. These medical societies are open to any Medical Doctor. The usual and only criteria is a Medical Degree, an active state license and be in good standing within the community. Example's are in California, The Riverside County Medical Society and the California Medical Association. The national umbrella organization is the American Medical Association.

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2) Surgical Societies: The criteria include Board Certification in a surgical speciality, state licensure, peer review, and review of your case log and a interview. Example:  Fellowship in the American college of Surgeons (FACS)


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3) Plastic Surgery Speciality Societies: The criteria include M.D. Degree and Board Certification in Plastic Surgery,  and formal letters of recommendation from your peers. Example: American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)


Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 3.33.56 PM.png4) Plastic Surgery Sub Speciality Societies: M.D. degree, Board Certification in Plastic Surgery, additional evidence (presentation of actual case logs) demonstrating  experience expertise in Aesthestic/Cosmetic Surgery, and formal peer generated letters of recommendation. Example: the American Society of Aesthetic Surgery (ASAPS)

Positions of leadership: committee members/chairmanship, Board Membership and officers signify a professional peer respect and approval that is earned by participation, contributions and reputation and only over time.

Academic appointments:

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.27.54 PM.pngFull time "academic practice": usually refers to a individual who works full time for a University Medical Center and duties include teaching medical students and residents in training, and performing research. Their academic rank is based on meeting certain criteria: research contributions, scientific presentations, scientific publications and teaching. This usually starts as instructor to full professor.

Clinical or volunteer "academic appointments" are bestowed to usually part time or private practice Plastic Surgeons who have demonstrated a commitment to to participate  in the part time training of medical students or residents in a Plastic Surgery training program.

Part 2 in this 3 part series will cover "How does a Plastic Surgeon become credentialed to perform plastic surgery".

Part 3 is how to choose "A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon".

The bottom line is:

  1. Do your research.
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask any question.
  3. Be specific about your needs, wants and desires.

I hope you find this information helpful. If I can improve upon, bring greater clarity or make absolutely anything more understandable, please email me at

My best wishes and may you choose wisely.

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Robert A. Hardesty M.D., F.A.C.S
Certified and Diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery



1) 9 years of post graduate M.D. Degree residency/fellowship training

-General Surgery (obtained Bd. Cert) full residency
-Plastic Surgery (Bd. Certified) full residency
-Crainofacial Fellowship Training

2) As a Plastic Surgery Residency Training Program Director/ Division Chief (having help train over 30 Board Certified Plastic Surgeons/fellows).

3) 17 years in full time academic medicine at Loma Linda University resulting in attaining the rank of Professor.

4) 12+ years in private practice to the present (focusing on Aesthestic/Cosmetic Plastic Surgery)

5) Leadership positions:
a) Past  president of the Medical Staff at Loma Linda University.  Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.27.54 PM.png


b) Positions within organized Plastic Surgery:
      -Past President of the Ca. Soc. of Plastic Surgeons (CSPS)   Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 4.18.23 PM.png

      -Past Bd. Member of the Am. Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 3.32.29 PM.png


      -Officer (Historian) of the Am. Ass. of Plastic Surgeons (AAPS)         Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 4.16.01 PM.png


      -Chairman of Plastic Surgery Research Council (PSRC)                      Screen Shot 2017-03-15 at 4.20.38 PM.png


6) -Clinician of the year 2003          Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.27.54 PM.png

    -Physician of the year 2015          Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.37.55 PM.png

7) National (Peer voted/selected)  Awards and patient voted Awards:
-Top Doctors Award:  peer voted/selected (Castle/Connoly, Inc.)        Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.39.54 PM.png

-Best Doctors Award: peer voted/selected ( Best Doctors, Inc.)        Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.40.24 PM.png

-Top Doctors Rating Award: peer voted/selected (The Center for Study and Service)        Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.41.29 PM.png

-Compassionate Physician Award: patient voted/selected (Vitals Rating)     Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.43.33 PM.png

- Real Self Top 100 Award   2016-rs-100-25802_lg.png



Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (http://aaahc)
American Association of Plastic Surgeons
American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgical Facilities (http://aaaasf
American Association Medical Colleges(
American Board of Medical Specialists(
American Board of Plastic Surgery, Inc. (
American Council of Graduate Medical Education(
American Medical Association (
American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (
American Society of Plastic Surgeons (
BBB Better Business Bureau (
Best Doctors, Inc (http//
California Department of Consumer Affairs (
Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services (
Federation of State Medical Boards(
Top Doctors, Castle and Connolly (
Top Doctor Ratings:The Center for the study of Service (


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The Staff of Imagine Plastic Surgery serving many of the communities of the greater Inland Empire including but limited to Riverside, CA and Inland Empire, Redlands, Rancho Cucamonga, Ontario, Corona, Upland, and Chino Hills.

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