What is a Plastic Surgeon?

Plastic surgeons are focused on reconstructive procedures. They can see patients who have conditions like birth disorders, injuries, illnesses, or burns.

Many plastic surgeons choose to become cosmetic surgeons and do procedures to change a patient’s appearance or aesthetic. But not all plastic surgeons are also cosmetic surgeons.

Education and Training

Plastic surgery is one of the most competitive routes in the medical field. The training can take more than a decade. After medical school, prospective plastic surgeons can take one of two paths:

  • A 6-year residency program that combines general surgery and plastic surgery 
  • A 5-year surgery residency and then a 3-year plastic surgery residency

Candidates then take an exam to practice plastic surgery in their state.

They can continue their education with a 1- or 2-year fellowship in areas like: 

  • Breasts. Plastic surgeons who specialize in breast surgeries can do them to change appearance, to reduce the size of the breasts, or rebuild them after surgery to treat a tumor.
  • Aesthetics. This is what most people think of when they think of plastic surgeries. They do surgery to change a person’s appearance. 
  • Craniofacial surgery. The craniofacial subspecialty is focused on the skull, face, ears, nose, and parts of the mouth. These surgeons often work on cleft palates , facial deformities, or missing noses or ears. 
  • General reconstructive surgery. These surgeons often work on wound healing, scar reparation, and scar revisions. 
  • Hands. Hand specialists treat injuries or ongoing conditions on the hand. 
  • Scars or burns. These specialists often repair burns or scars. 

What Does a Plastic Surgeon Do?

Plastic surgeons can repair or reconstruct any part of the body except the central nervous system. Some of the procedures they do are: 

  • Breast reconstruction
  • Burn repair
  • Lower extremity reconstruction
  • Hand surgery
  • Scar revision
  • Migraine relief
  • Jaw straightening
  • Corrective surgeries for genetic problems

Plastic surgeons see patients on a daily basis to discuss and diagnose issues. They perform any necessary operations and monitor their patients afterward. They usually work in clinics, offices, or hospitals. 

Reasons to See a Plastic Surgeon

You may need to see a plastic surgeon about a physical problem. Your primary care physician will probably refer you to them.

If you want to change something about the way you look, see a cosmetic surgeon. Any licensed physician is legally allowed to do cosmetic surgery. Make sure you find one who has the right training and licensing.

Plastic surgery restores and improves function, as well as appearance. It can involve surgery on any part of the anatomy, except the central nervous system, including:

  • Skin, including skin cancer, scars, burns, birthmarks, and tattoo removal
  • Maxillofacial (the facial skeleton)
  • Congenital anomalies, including deformed ears, cleft palate, and cleft lip

Doctors who do plastic surgery

It’s important to select a doctor who is certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Generally, a surgeon who is board-certified in plastic surgery has graduated from an accredited medical school and has completed at least 5 years of graduate medical education. This usually includes 3 years of general surgery and 2 years of plastic surgery. In addition, the surgeon must practice plastic surgery for 2 years and pass comprehensive written and oral exams to become board-certified. Board certification is renewed every 10 years to ensure ongoing competency in the specialty.

What does plastic surgery include?

Plastic surgery includes both reconstructive and aesthetic (cosmetic) procedures:

Reconstructive plastic surgery

In general, reconstructive surgery is done on abnormal structures of the body that may be caused by:

  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Developmental abnormalities
  • Congenital (present at birth) anomalies
  • Disease
  • Tumors

This type of surgery is usually done to improve function, but may also be done to change appearance.

Cosmetic (aesthetic) plastic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is done to repair or reshape otherwise normal structures of the body, generally, to improve appearance.

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