About 2,100 plastic surgeons in the country have been certified by the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, who, like James J. Reardon, have completed a "rigorous" training course that includes four years of medical school, a year's internship, at least three years of general surgical training and two years of specialized work in plastic surgery.

But, says Reardon, "Not all plastic surgeons who are certified are equally skilled...." To find a surgeon, he advises:

Check the library for a copy of the Directory of Medical Specialists, listing board-certified surgeons.

Get recommendations -- from a friend who has had plastic surgery or your physician.

Find one on the staff of an accredited hospital. "That's because such a doctor is constantly being judged by his surgical peers."

Before the consultation, prepare a list of questions you want answered. "What do you have doubts about?"

Ask for qualifications -- training, education, special honors, hospital affiliations.

Get an estimate of the cost (medical insurance usually doesn't cover cosmetic surgery) and the time you will be out of work.

Ask about the surgeon's outpatient facilities. Or you may want to see the operating room.

"Be diligent," he writes, "about checking the surgeon's credentials, his affiliations and the facilities in which he operates."