When you decide to have weight loss surgery – whether it’s Gastric Bypass, Gastric Band (LAP-BAND® or REALIZE®) or Gastric Sleeve – you will not be going on your journey alone. Your bariatric surgeon will take the trip right along with you.
When it comes to choosing the right surgeon, it is important to choose someone who has the right combination of training, experience, compassion and commitment to ensure you get the best care possible. Be sure that the person you choose is an experienced surgeon, with a multi-disciplinary team. Whomever you choose to do your surgery, remember that that person should be able to provide you with more than just the immediate needs before and during surgery but also for the long haul to coach and motivate you after surgery. Here are the key qualifications you should look for when choosing a bariatric practice. Use them as a guide to help narrow your search for a doctor and ask about them before you make your first appointment.
- The surgeons should be fellowship-trained and board certified.
To start, one of the first things you should look for is a fellowship-trained, board certified surgeon. Fellowship-trained means in addition to the required five years spent in a general surgery residency gaining surgical experience, your surgeon chose to train an additional year focusing on enhancing his/her laparoscopic general and bariatric surgery skills. Board certified means that your surgeon has passed a post-residency certification written and oral exam about all aspects of surgery given by the American College of Surgeons (Meet the NJBC team).
- The practice is a Bariatric Surgery Center of Excellence.
As you’ll see when you start a search for a surgeon, there are lots of certifications. In addition to fellowship-trained and board certification, the next one you need to pay particular attention to is the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS) Center of Excellence certification. The ASMBS is a professional society for bariatric surgeons. They’ve determine — that is experts in bariatric surgery, not insurance companies or other organizations — a strict set of criteria based on their experience for both surgeons and hospitals to meet to earn a Center of Excellence designation.While Center of Excellence certification doesn’t guarantee that a surgeon is the right one for you, it does help ensure that the surgeon has the right level of experience. This includes performing a minimum of 125 procedures a year and that the facilities are designed specifically for bariatric patients including proper furniture, surgical instruments and multidisciplinary specialists. It also ensures that the surgeon and hospital are set up for long-term care and support, which is key for weight loss success. (Read more about NJBC’s Center of Excellence status.)
- Doctor discusses benefits and risks
Everyone talks about the benefits of weight loss and the improvements you’ll see to your health, but if your surgeon isn’t also upfront about the risks of surgery you need to ask yourself why? Bariatric surgery is serious surgery, and each procedure — Gastric Bypass, Gastric Band (LAP-BAND® and REALIZE®) and Gastric Sleeve — just like any other surgery, comes with risks. Each patient needs to understand the risks and then weigh the benefits vs. the risks before determining if surgery is right for them. If you aren’t clear on the risks or your surgeon doesn’t mention them, don’t be shy. Ask your surgeon to explain them to you so you can make an informed decision. (Read about the Risks of Surgery)
- The practice supports a multi-disciplinary team
Make sure the surgeon you choose has the right support players in place to ensure success. Success after weight loss surgery includes not only an experienced surgeon, but also a team of nutritionists, psychologists and exercise specialists who will help you navigate life, food and fitness before and after surgery to help you maximize weight loss. Working with a multi-disciplinary team, with a support system in place for both before and after surgery, signals that your surgeon is committed to your long-term success. (Visit our Support page)
- Better than average complication and mortality rates.
Even in the hands of the best, most experienced surgeons, complications and in some cases mortality does occur. It’s important to know the national averages: Gastric bypass has a mortality rate of 1 in 200; gastric sleeve’s mortality rate is 3 in 1,000; and gastric band’s rate is 1 in 1,000. You want to find a surgeon who’s either under or on par with the national averages. An experienced and skilled surgeons with a better than average rates will post this information on their website or talk about it in their seminar. If this information isn’t readily available or the surgeon is reluctant to talk about it, you need to ask yourself why and if this person is the right one for you.
- The surgeon is a member of ASMBS
Membership in ASMBS, the bariatric professional society, shows a commitment to the craft — a commitment to keeping up-to-date on the latest techniques and research. A surgeon who keeps up with the latest studies, research and techniques is the kind of surgeon you want.
- The doctor gives straight-forward answers to the tough questions
If you’re like most patients I see (and you probably are if you’re reading this article!), you’ve done a lot of research to help you determine which surgery — Gastric Bypass, Gastric Sleeve, or Gastric Band (LAP Band or REALIZE®) — is right for you. A natural outcome of all that research is often a lot of questions. Be sure your surgeon answers all questions, but particularly the tougher ones like risks, complications and mortality in a straight-forward manner. Now is not time to have someone beat around the bush, you want a surgeon who’s upfront with you on all aspects of the surgery. This doesn’t mean I’m encouraging you to play “stump the surgeon” nor does it mean that every once in a while you’ll have a question for your surgeon that is really better answered by one of his team members, and he’ll point you in their direction. It simply means look for someone who will be upfront and truthful about the procedure and the long-term commitment you’ll be making to lose weight and get healthy.
You’ve made sure the certifications are there, spoken to your surgeon and asked the tough questions, now it’s time to go with your gut. Has the surgeon earned your trust? Do you feel he or she will offer you the best level of care? Will they be in it for the long-term cheering your successes and encouraging you through the tough times? If after talking to your prospective surgeon and the answer to those questions is “yes,” then you’ve found the right surgeon for you.