Medical Tourism – Traveling to get Plastic Surgery

It’s wonderful living in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex.  DFW International airport makes it pretty easy to get here from anywhere.  I have had the pleasure of operating on people from California, New York, Florida, Canada, and all over the great state of Texas.  There are a lot of reasons people travel to undergo plastic surgery.  There are reasons people should also consider to perhaps avoid traveling.  Let’s take a look.

Cost of Cosmetic Plastic Surgery

Cost is one of the main reasons people travel to undergo cosmetic plastic surgery.  Even within smaller geographic areas.  For instance, breast augmentation in Dallas (30 miles away) costs about $1,000 more than it does in Fort Worth (in my review of costs listed on websites).  In 2023 there have been many news reports (for reasons listed below) about people traveling to Matamoros, Mexico to have their cosmetic surgery done.  Cost is the biggest reason.  ABC News listed the average cost of liposuction in Matamoros to be about $3,500.  In Fort Worth the cost typically starts at about $5,000 and goes up from there depending on where the surgery is done and the number of areas treated.

Other Factors to Consider when Traveling for Cosmetic Plastic Surgery

Cost is important.  No doubt.  The cost of everything is rising.  It makes sense to look for a bargain.  But, buyer beware.

Credentialing of the Plastic Surgeon and the Hospital or Clinic

In the United States, every clinic and every hospital has to be credentialed by a governing body.  And those governing bodies take their jobs very, very seriously.  For instance, the Joint Commission sends surveyors to every hospital and every ambulatory surgery center at least once every 3 years.  If you ever want to see a bunch of doctors, nurses, and healthcare administrators get especially uptight, hang around them when Joint Commission is inspecting their facilities.  Doctors who have operating rooms in their offices also have to have those inspected.

Plastic surgeons in the U.S. undergo rigorous training in major universities and hospitals.  Those training programs also have oversight by governing bodies, like the American Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME).  The ACGME makes sure that plastic surgery training produces safe, effective surgeons.  Most plastic surgeons also become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).  I have been certified by ABPS for over 20 years, and have re-certified twice.  It’s a challenging process to obtain certification.  ABPS also has things we have to do each year to maintain our certification.

When you have a cosmetic plastic surgery procedure done in the United States by a Board-certified plastic surgeon, you know that you are having your surgery done by someone who has had strong training.  You know you are having surgery done in a facility that has undergone and passed inspections by very qualified people.

Do you know what you are getting when you travel abroad?  Do you really know what the training of the surgeons was?  Do you know if their facilities are inspected?  Sometimes the surgeons trained in the U.S.  Often times not.

Staffing at Foreign Hospitals and Clinics

It’s true that many foreign plastic surgeons speak English.  But, what about the rest of the people who will be taking care of you?  The people at the front desk, the people who will be drawing your blood, who will be starting your i.v.?  What about the people who will be taking you to and from the operating room, and the people in the recovery room?  Will your postoperative instructions be provided in English?   If you speak the language of the country where you’re having your surgery, these things may not be of concern.  But if you don’t speak that language, these things will make a difference.  Do you know what type of training these people had?  In the United States, you are assured that the nurses, doctors, and operating room staffs have undergone significant training.  Is that true in Matamoros?  In Mumbai?  Maybe.

Foreign Clinic and Hospital Oversight

The importance of this cannot be stressed enough.  Certainly things don’t go perfectly in every procedure in any facility in any country.  But, the more oversight that exists, the less likely it is that major steps are skipped.  There have been reports of fungal meningitis in many, many patients who underwent plastic surgery in two clinics in Matamoros, Mexico in the first 5 months of 2023.  There is a shortage of medications commonly used for epidurals in anesthesia in Mexico and some clinics have been buying the medications on the black market.  Okey dokey.  If you want fungus in the brain, that’s apparently a good way to get it.  Over 400 patients who had surgery in those two clinics are now being monitored, after several died.  And Matamoros isn’t the only city in Mexico where things like this have happened.  In Tijuana in 2022, medical tourism patients died after undergoing surgery at a clinic that had lost its license but stayed open anyway.  Oversight and training help minimize these risks.  The United States has significant oversight and training.  Do you know what you’re getting when you travel to Mexico or India or Malaysia?

Photograph of a Matamoros clinic
(Matamoros facility involved in fungal infections)

Intangibles of Undergoing Plastic Surgery Abroad

There are other things to consider when traveling abroad to undergo cosmetic surgery.  Matamoros, Mexico was in the news in March 2023 for a different reason.  Four people were kidnapped and two of them were executed by gang members in Matamoros who mistook them for rival drug traffickers.  All because one of the 4 wanted to have a tummy tuck that cost less than where she lived in South Carolina.  Other intangibles to consider:

  • will you be staying in the foreign country for a while after your cosmetic surgery?
  • if you are staying there, where will you be staying?
  • what happens if you have a complication while you are recovering in the foreign country?
  • what happens if you have a complication once you return to the United States?  Who will take care of you?  What will that cost?

Undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery in a place that’s not where you live can certainly end up with a wonderful outcome.   But, there are some unique risks as you travel outside the United States for this type of surgery.  If you’re thinking about traveling abroad for surgery, don’t just go there because it’s less expensive.  Don’t just go there because you read a surgical journey diary on the internet by someone who went there.  Do.  Your.  Homework.  Read as much as you can.  Call the place and ask questions.  If you can’t understand the person on the telephone, you’re not likely to understand many people involved in your journey.


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