You've contemplated getting breast augmentation, a nose job, or a tummy tuck for years. You've done your research, weighed the pros and cons, and decided to move ahead. But you still have another important decision to make: choosing a cosmetic surgeon. Here, guidelines to help you decide.

What credentials does the doctor have?

First and foremost, find out if your surgeon is certified. While any doctor—even one from a nonsurgical specialty—can legally perform surgery, certification means this physician has specific experience in the field.

Several different organizations offer certification, so be sure to ask which group issued the certification. For example, a surgeon with American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) certification will have at least five years of surgical training, including two years of training specifically in plastic surgery.

Other organizations go beyond those certification standards. A doctor who is a member of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ASAPS) has to be certified by the ABPS, has to have had at least three years of cosmetic surgical experience after being certified, and has met requirements for continuing cosmetic surgery education.

Where will the procedure be performed?

Cosmetic plastic surgeries are not always performed in a traditional hospital setting. They are often performed outside the hospital in an office-based surgical facility.

Wherever the surgery is to be performed, find out if the facility has been accredited by a state- or nationally recognized agency, such as the Joint Commission (formerly known as Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations or JCAHO), Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC), or Medicare.

Accredited office-based facilities have a safety record comparable to that of hospital ambulatory surgery settings.

What do other people say?

In addition to finding out what kinds of medical and professional qualifications a surgeon has, you will want to know about his or her professional reputation. See if your primary care physician has any recommendations. Call your state medical board to inquire if any complaints have been filed about the cosmetic surgeon.

Ask friends or family members who have had elective procedures what they thought of their surgeons. Finally, the American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery even suggests checking with hairdressers and cosmetologists, who will often see the scars from elective procedures.

Are you ready?

Candidates for cosmetic surgery should be in generally good physical health and must be candid with their physician about any drugs they are taking. Be sure to tell your doctor about your complete medical history, including hormones (oral contraceptives and estrogen replacement) and even aspirin, vitamins, and herbal medications. Any of these substances can interfere with blood clotting or interact with medications used during surgery and could increase surgical risk.

Before surgery, be sure you feel confident and fully educated about all aspects of the planned surgery, including whether to discontinue certain medications and stop smoking. Don't forget to ask about postoperative care. Surgery is not truly over until you're mobile and have returned to a relatively normal routine.