Last September, I wrote about the medical dangers of cheap cosmetic surgery by unqualified doctors. The article discussed the benefits of choosing a board certified cosmetic surgeon compared to often lesser-trained doctors. The article focused on differences among doctors--the key word being doctors. Unfortunately, there are some individuals performing cosmetic surgery on patients who are not even doctors. As a Chicago medical malpractice lawyer, I cannot stress enough the surgical error risks associated with individuals performing surgery who are not licensed to practice medicine. A cheap cosmetic procedure is no bargain if you do not survive.
In order to become a licensed physician in the United States, extensive medical education and training is required. Following a four-year undergraduate degree, students wishing to become medical doctors must complete fours of education at medical school. After medical school, students earn their doctor of medicine. However, before practicing medicine on their own, these doctors must complete additional training in a three to seven year residency program under the supervision of a senior physician educator. Doctors completing their residency program may then practice medicine on their own although they have the option to receive additional training in a fellowship program. Fellowship trained physicians receive one to three years of additional training in a subspecialty.
Despite the fact becoming a doctor in the US requires extensive medical training, there are some who fraudulently hold themselves out as doctors even though they are not. Some of these people even perform medical procedures like plastic surgery--not only in third world countries--but right here in the United States. Consider the just one city, Las Vegas, Nevada. In the last two years, three people have been charged with performing cosmetic surgeries on patients in Las Vegas without a medical license.
Last year, police arrested a Colombian couple in Las Vegas who performed buttock surgery on a 42 year-old women. When the procedure went bad, the couple reportedly left the patient to die rather than call for medical help. The couple was sentenced to up to eight years in prison. A wrongful death lawsuit against the couple in this case would highly problematic since they almost certainly did not have medical malpractice insurance or, if they did, the company would almost certainly deny coverage.
Earlier this year, a woman was arrested for performing cosmetic surgery in Las Vegas without a medical license. The police arrested the women when, upon entering her home, she was observed performing surgery by herself on a patient. The patient was transported a local hospital. Fortunately, the patient's injuries were not life threatening.
How can a patient tell when someone claims to be physician but they are not? That is not an easy question to answer. However, there are some red flags to look out for. First, be leery of any doctor whose office is in an unusual location. In both Las Vegas incidents, the people arrested were performing surgery in either a storefront or home office. Second, be suspicious if the doctor's behavior seems unprofessional and/or if the doctor's support staff seems unprofessional. Not all doctors present like Marcus Welby, MD. However, nearly all doctors carry themselves in a professional manner. They seldom, if ever, appear indecisive or uncertain in their medical knowledge. Third, do some research before going to a new doctor or doctor you are uncertain of. Although the Internet should not be the sole basis for selecting a doctor, there is a lot of information that can be found from legitimate websites. Many of these websites like Health Grades have been around a long time and provide background information on licensed doctors in the US. Fourth, and finally, follow your gut. If something seems out of place, it very well may be. If there is any doubt, find another doctor.
Associated Press / Wall Street Journal Website, Police In Vegas Investigating Home Surgery Clinic, November 8, 2011
AMA Website, Requirements For Becoming A Physician, November 8, 2011