Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I had just one day to check out the neurosurgeon who was recommended to operate on me. The surgery had to be performed as soon as possible. Fortunately, I knew steps I could take to assure myself (and family) that the recommended doctor had the background and experience to give me the best chance of a successful outcome.

Most of us know very little about the surgeons in our community. To some degree that’s good! It probably means you have had few surgeries or none at all. But when, and if, you do need a surgical procedure, knowing how to check out and select a surgeon is vital.

Here are some things you should know and steps to take when selecting a surgeon:

  • Not all surgeons are equal. Legally, if physicians have a license to practice medicine in a state, they can call themselves any specialty they want. That means they can hang out a shingle calling themselvea a surgeon even if they have no special surgical training beyond basic medical school. They may not get hospital privileges, but they can perform surgical procedures in the office or an outpatient surgi-center they may own. That’s why taking the following actions is extremely important.
  • Is the surgeon board certified? Board certification means that the doctor has advanced training in the specialty and participates in continuing education to stay abreast and current in that specialty. But not all boards of specialty are as comprehensive as others. The most respected boards are those that are members of the American Board of Medical Specialties. The ABMS is made up of 24 boards certifying physicians in 40 specialties and 88 subspecialties. You can see if your surgeon is board certified in one or more specialties by going to the ABMS website (www.abms.org) and clicking on the “for patients” icon, where you can search by the surgeon’s name.
  • Has the state taken action? You should also contact your state medical licensing board to determine if they have taken any action against the surgeon. These boards hear complaints made by consumers as well as other physicians or medical personnel about the competence of a doctor licensed by the state. You can find your state’s licensing board and contact information at the Federation of State Medical Boards website: www.fsmb.org/contact-a-state-medical-board/.
  • Is there a record of malpractice? You can find out if a surgeon has been accused or found guilty of medical malpractice by contacting the county or local courts in the jurisdiction where the doctor is currently practicing or previously practiced. Many doctors are sued, but most are found not guilty based on lack of evidence. But numerous suits against a doctor may be a warning sign.
  • Ask another doctor or nurse? Ask your primary care doctor or a nurse who works at the same hospital if they would use the surgeon for any surgeries they might need. These fellow practitioners have an inside view, based on the patients they have seen, of how successful the outcomes have been with a particular surgeon.
  • Question the surgeon? Ask all surgeons how many times they have performed the same surgery you need. The more the better. Also ask at which area hospitals do they have operating privileges.

The more you know about a surgeon, the better your chances of choosing the right one for your needs.

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