Cosmetic surgery reactions differ by culture

I have been practicing plastic surgery in a metropolitan, multicultural area of the world—Washington, DC, and its suburbs—for the past 20 years. During this time I have come to learn about the different cultures to be found in a diverse area such as mine and the way that different patients deal with their plastic surgeon. Perhaps because cosmetic surgery is so different from other types of surgery on an emotional and expectation level, the cultural differences is acute.

I may offend some of you with my candid observations, but I can assure you that this is what I see day in and day out.  Of course, these are generalizations, but they may still be worth something.

Difficult plastic surgery patients

Difficult plastic surgery patients tend to:

  • be misinformed about cosmetic surgery (my friend had…)
  • lie about their medical history
  • have unrealistic expectations of results (e.g., thinking recovery takes hours instead of months)
  • not follow doctor’s orders (they know better)
  • be particularly mistrustful of the plastic surgeon (do not believe anything the surgeon tells them)
  • be mistrustful and secretive of and about family members (do not tell partners they are having surgery)
  • be unhappy with results before the surgery is even performed
  • be very needy 
  • have no family support structure they can rely on
  • be overly cautious and worried about healing
  • be very demanding
  • not listen to what they are told and have their own fixed ideas

Culturally, these patients tend to come from societies where people are more individualistic and out to profit from one another with less scruples. This may lead to the lack of trust in those caring for them, which leads to an erosion of the doctor-patient relationship.  They approach everyone, including the surgeon, with suspicion and cannot believe that their surgeon wants only the best results possible for them. In essence, they project the type of person they are onto the rest of the world. They may be the sort that cheats and lies through life, or they may merely be very frightened and insecure. The patient’s office visits become a dreaded event for the cosmetic surgeon and staff. This is NOT the type of patient you want to be.

Easy plastic surgery patients

These patients tend to be very courteous and grateful for the plastic surgeon and his/her efforts, sometimes to the point of being obsequious. They are:

  • Happy and thankful
  • Pleasant  
  • Understanding of normal healing processes and time requirements
  • Open in dialogue with the surgeon and with family
  • In possession of a family support structure to rely on
  • Trusting of the plastic surgeon’s team and recommendations
  • Perhaps overly trusting of the cosmetic surgeon (don’t ask enough questions)

Thankfully, most plastic surgery patients fall into this group. Their recovery is smoother and their interactions with the plastic surgeon and office staff much more pleasant. As we are all human, in the end I think they get better cosmetic surgery care!

Morad Tavallali, M.D., FACS

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