Business is booming for doctors who perform rhinoplasty (search), thanks to reality TV and an affluent and aging baby boomer population.
With high demand fueling procedural and technological improvements, more than 100 doctors seeking the newest nose knowledge are attending a symposium this week to learn the latest techniques.
"The pace of progress is unbelievable in all forms of medicine," said Dr. Edmund A. Pribitkin, director of facial plastic surgery at Thomas Jefferson University's medical college. "But now so much more money is being poured into cosmetic surgery, you've got a lot more advances being made."
Those advances include synthetic or natural biomaterials that can interact with living tissue before being absorbed, eliminated or binded with the person's own tissue.
The Rhinoplasty 2005 conference, being held Thursday through Saturday at Jefferson Medical College, features seminars on topics that include analyzing a patient's face to choose the best nose for them; fixing big, bent, bumpy or stumpy noses; treating sagging septums and falling bridges; and salvaging noses that have fallen victim to plastic surgery disasters. It is sponsored by the University of Tennessee's medical college.
Doctors say such plastic surgery conferences are becoming more common as demand skyrockets for the procedures. They credit the surge in demand to popular "makeover" TV shows that are promising ugly duckling-to-Cinderella (or Prince Charming) transformations and are removing the mystery and stigma from what's euphemistically known as "getting work done."
About 11.9 million surgical and nonsurgical cosmetic procedures were performed in 2004, a 44 percent increase from 2003 and a whopping 465 percent increase from 1997, according to statistics compiled by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
There were 166,187 nose jobs performed in 2004 — down from 172,420 in 2003, but higher than 137,053 in 1997, according to the group.
Dr. Peter Fodor, president of the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, attributed the increase to several factors, including: Americans with more money to spend, baby boomers battling back the years, and the spate of TV shows and fashion magazine articles on plastic surgery in the past decade.
"We do see more people now from all walks of life," he said. "Aesthetic surgery was once the domain of the rich and famous, and that's no longer the case."
The media blitz "is a double-edged sword," Fodor said. "It helped demystify plastic surgery but it also oversimplifies and trivializes aesthetic surgery and imparts unrealistic expectations for patients."
Fodor also said that some doctors don't follow high ethical standards when they do things like retool faces in the image of a patient's favorite celebrity — as one TV show documents.
"We have a code of ethics our members live by and that is really a violation of our code," he said.
David Sarwer, psychologist at the Center for Human Appearance at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said that the vast majority of plastic surgeons recognize that people making extreme and unusual requests need counseling — not surgery.
"Based on our research, the vast majority of patients who seek cosmetic surgery seem to be psychologically appropriate (candidates)," he said. "When people say they spend several hours a day worrying about their appearance ... or they're are trying to solve an emotional or psychological problem with cosmetic surgery, in general those patients are better off with psychological treatment."
Melody Doyle, 49, didn't want Jennifer Aniston's nose when she underwent rhinoplasty last year — she just wanted to regain what she once had. A bookcase fell on her when she was 15, leaving behind a scar and a bump.
"I had a beautiful nose. I just wanted my old nose back, and that's what I got," said Doyle, of Glendora, N.J.
"No one, not even my family, even knew I had it done ... but I guess they will now," she said with a laugh.