What is a board-certified cosmetic laser surgeon?

By Warren B. Seiler III MD

After more than a decade practicing cosmetic medicine, this undoubtedly is the question I receive most frequently from my patients (and even other physicians). Most people simply aren’t as familiar with my specialty, cosmetic laser surgery, as they are with more common specialties, such as plastic surgery or dermatology. Even my long-term patients, whom I’ve been treating for years, sometimes are unsure about what to “call me” when recommending Seiler Skin to their friends!

So, to clear up any confusion, let me get right to the answer – a cosmetic laser surgeon is a surgically trained physician who has achieved the highest level of specialty in the field of cosmetic laser and aesthetic medicine – a board certification through the American Board of Laser Surgery (ABLS), the only laser specialty board in the world. The ABLS was established in 1984 solely to govern the use of lasers in surgery, and eventually evolved to offer the highest levels of education and training for the growing number of laser devices used in various surgical and non-surgical specialties. Since 2011, I have served as the Executive Director of the ABLS, and work to train and board-examine other physicians and non-physicians from around the world on laser procedures.

Furthermore, a cosmetic laser surgeon understands the theory and application of laser physics well beyond any other general specialty, and therefore is most apt to prevent possible complications and achieve the best patient outcomes for all skin types. Because a cosmetic laser surgeon is trained extensively through the ABLS and fully understands the science behind highly powerful laser devices, he or she is best positioned to evaluate and procure the leading technology on the market (as opposed to manufacturers’ claims, pictures or other marketing materials), and then use it to treat patients safely and effectively. This is extremely important because a non-specialized provider cannot simply “test drive” multiple laser devices, as one might a car, to determine which is best, due to the fact that it sometimes takes months or multiple treatments in order for optimal results to appear (e.g., laser hair removal devices).

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A COSMETIC LASER SURGEON AND OTHER NON-SPECIALIZED PROVIDERS WHO OFFER LASER TREATMENTS?

First and foremost, a cosmetic laser surgeon understands that each laser device is different and built to treat very specific conditions. Many non-specialized providers might have one or two lasers, and still offer an array of treatments for which the device(s) they have is not appropriate. There certainly is truth in the old adage, “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Conversely, many providers may have a large number of lasers, but do not possess the specialty knowledge or comprehensive training required to use their devices beyond the instructions or parameters provided by the device manufacturer. A true laser specialist, like myself, has the right number of advanced laser devices that can be adjusted to achieve the best possible outcome(s), versus attempting to force devices to operate in a way in which they were designed. This is exactly how complications, sometimes severe, can arise.

Cosmetic laser surgeons also recognize that the skin is an organ (the largest in the body), and therefore requires delicate pre- and post-procedure care to promote optimal healing times and results. Along the same vein, we know how to identify medical factors that determine if a patient is a good candidate for a specific laser procedure, or if his or her concern might be caused by an underlying medical condition which necessitates a referral to a different specialist (e.g., skin cancer, hormone imbalances, allergies, etc.). Lastly, as trained surgeons, we are most capable of preventing or diagnosing and treating complications during or after treatment – some of which may be complex and overlooked by a non-specialist.

WHY WAS THE SPECIALTY CREATED?

Like all medical specialties, cosmetic laser surgery was born from medical innovation and advances in technology. In the 1900s, surgeons of the time were jacks of all trades – on any given day, they might deliver a baby in the morning, repair a broken bone at noon and sew a skin graft in the afternoon. Today, you have obstetrics, orthopedic surgery, plastic surgery and others, all of which are subspecialties of general surgery, developed in response to the increasingly deep expertise and experience required to be the best at these very specific types of medicine.

Similarly, the cosmetic laser surgery specialty was created because the medical community at large recognized that the use of lasers in surgery was becoming more pervasive as technology advanced, and therefore required its own highly focused concentration in order for surgeons to be the best at this very specific type of medicine. My specialty pulls knowledge, training and expertise from many different surgical practice areas, including general surgery, plastic surgery and dermatology, and requires extensive further training beyond any general residency or fellowship program.

WHY DID I CHOOSE COSMETIC LASER SURGERY?

My father was a physician, so you could say medicine runs in my blood! I’ve wanted to be a physician for as long as I can remember, and have been fascinated with surgery since I was in high school. When I entered medical school, I was convinced that neurosurgery was my calling; however, after rotations during general surgery, I found that my interest and skill set truly laid in the realm of plastic surgery. During my final year of study, I began using lasers during surgery and fell in love with it.

With the help of my plastics advisors, I discovered that physicians in larger cities were focusing their entire practices on non-invasive cosmetic procedures. I spent the next year traveling to five states learning everything I needed to know about laser surgery in order to start my practice, including when to refer to other specialists, and subsequently obtained my board certification.

The beautiful thing about my highly focused specialty is that I know everything I need to know about cosmetic laser surgery, and fully have mastered my craft. When you come to see me, you should have no doubt that I am one of the foremost authorities on cosmetic laser surgery in the world, and as such you absolutely will receive both world-class care and non-invasive cosmetic procedures. 

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