Plastic surgery is a transformative profession where art and science meet to change lives. It is a broad medical field that goes beyond just cosmetic procedures like facelifts or nose jobs; a plastic surgeon has the power to reconstruct, refine, and restore. Among the different types of surgeons you can become, plastic surgery is definitely worth considering!

This blog post focuses on the requirements for becoming a plastic surgeon and mastering  this intricate occupation. So, keep on reading to explore how to become a plastic surgeon and tips for succeeding in this role!

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What Is a Plastic Surgeon?

Plastic surgeons are medical professionals who specialize in cosmetic and reconstructive care, with each having their own importance and responsibilities. A reconstructive plastic surgeon is an expert in repairing, reconstructing, or modifying parts of the human body. Working on the skin, face, and various body parts, they help improve function and appearance. Their general role includes performing surgeries to restore the body after injuries, congenital disabilities, or diseases.

Cosmetic plastic surgeons, on the other hand, specifically aim to improve appearance. They perform surgeries like facelifts, breast augmentation, and liposuction, mainly for aesthetic enhancement. Their role is important in restoring confidence to those who aren’t happy with their appearance and want to change it.

What Does a Plastic Surgeon Do?

As part of their job, plastic surgeons perform a wide range of surgeries, such as specific procedures like rhinoplasty (reshaping the nose), breast implants for augmentation, and liposuction to remove fat. They also undertake complex reconstructive surgeries, such as rebuilding a breast after mastectomy using tissue flaps or implants, and repairing facial bone structure after injuries.

In terms of specialization:

  • Cosmetic surgeons focus on enhancing appearance through procedures like facelifts, eyelid surgeries, and body contouring.
  • Reconstructive surgeons address deformities from birth defects (like cleft lip and palate repair), injuries (like scar revision), and diseases (like reconstructing a breast post-cancer).
  • Craniofacial surgeons specifically work on the skull and facial structures, often correcting congenital anomalies.

These surgeries significantly impact patients’ lives by improving physical appearance, enhancing self-esteem, and, in many cases, restoring essential functions like breathing, eating, and speaking. This can lead to profound emotional and psychological benefits for patients.

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon?


Understanding the steps to become a plastic surgeon is key to individuals who see themselves in this role. 

1. Undergraduate Education

Choosing a relevant undergraduate program is crucial for aspiring plastic surgeons because it prepares them for medical school. Key pre-med courses include biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. These subjects build a strong foundation in the sciences, which is essential for medical studies.

Maintaining a high GPA is also important, as medical schools are highly competitive and often consider academic performance as a primary criterion. Additionally, gaining extracurricular experience through volunteering, research, or shadowing doctors helps students stand out in their medical school applications and provides valuable insights into the medical field.

2. Medical School

Medical school is critical for any aspiring doctor. And to secure your spot in the tough competition, taking the MCAT seriously is important. Doing well on this exam is essential for medical school admission.

The first two years of medical school are the preclinical years, during which students learn science through classroom instruction. The final two are the clinical years, during which students gain hands-on experience in hospitals and clinics.

Doing well in medical school is crucial for securing residency placements, especially in competitive fields like plastic surgery. High grades and strong clinical evaluations are important.

3. General Surgery Residency

Upon graduating from medical school, students continue with post-graduate training, like completing a residency. A general surgery residency typically lasts five years and consists of rotations in various surgical specialties like trauma, vascular, pediatric, and cardiothoracic surgery. During this time, residents learn a wide range of skills, including how to perform surgeries, manage pre and post-operative care, and handle emergency situations. 

Alternatively, students can explore the integrated plastic surgery residency, a six-year program that combines general surgery and plastic surgery training from the start. This pathway allows residents to focus earlier on plastic surgery, developing specialized skills in reconstructive and cosmetic procedures.

4. Plastic Surgery Residency

If specializing in plastic surgery is your goal, then completing the plastic surgery residency is crucial. It can take up to 3 additional years post-general surgery residency or 6 years in an integrated program. Trainees focus on key areas like cosmetic surgery, reconstructive surgery, hand surgery, and microsurgery (reconnecting small blood vessels and nerves). This period involves intensive procedural training to master these techniques. Additional requirements may include research projects and attending conferences.

5. Fellowships (Optional)

Pursuing a fellowship in plastic surgery is optional, but it allows doctors to specialize further in specific areas, enhancing their skills and knowledge. This advanced training leads to expertise in complex procedures and improves job opportunities and patient outcomes.

Aesthetic, craniofacial, and microsurgery are among the most common subspecialties for fellowships. Other subspecialties may include:

  • Breast Surgery: Specializing in procedures like breast reconstruction, breast reduction, and corrective surgeries after cancer treatment.
  • Burn Surgery: Concentrating on the acute treatment and reconstructive surgery of burn injuries.
  • Body Contouring: Specializing in surgeries to reshape areas of the body, often after significant weight loss, including tummy tucks, body lifts, and liposuction.

Fellowships typically last 1-2 years, involving intensive, focused training in the chosen subspecialty.

6. Licensing and Board Certification

To obtain a medical license in the U.S., doctors must pass a series of exams. MDs take the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination), while DOs take the COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination). These exams test knowledge and skills over three steps, primarily during and after medical school.

To become board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), surgeons must:

  1. Complete an accredited plastic surgery residency
  2. Pass a written exam to assess knowledge
  3. Pass an oral exam that evaluates clinical judgment and decision-making

Certification is crucial for career advancement, ensuring high standards of practice and enhancing job opportunities and professional credibility.

7. Apply for Jobs

Once all requirements are fulfilled, it’s time to look for a job in the field. Knowing how to approach this critical step is important due to the competitive nature of the labor market. To find job opportunities, start by exploring online job boards and hospital career sites to see for open positions. 

To find job opportunities, it is also vital to:

  • Explore: Attend job fairs and use social media platforms like LinkedIn to connect with employers.
  • Networking: Work on building relationships with mentors, peers, and join professional organizations like the American Society of Plastic Surgeons to meet industry professionals and learn about openings.
  • Interviewing: Prepare for interviews by practicing common questions and understanding the employer’s background. Tailor your responses to highlight relevant experience and skills.
  • CV/Resume: Build a strong resume by including your education, clinical rotations, fellowships, certifications, and any research or publications. Clearly emphasize your skills, accomplishments, and specialties to stand out.

If you’re unlucky after the first and second attempts, keep trying! Know that the medical field is one of the most competitive areas in the labor market, but it also provides immense satisfaction and monetary income.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Plastic Surgeon?

To become a practicing plastic surgeon, the journey begins with undergraduate education, typically lasting 4 years, where students take pre-med courses like biology and chemistry. Next is medical school, which also takes 4 years, divided into classroom learning and clinical rotations.

After medical school, the path varies:

  • General Surgery Residency: This takes about 5 years, where trainees gain broad surgical skills.
  • Plastic Surgery Residency: This can be an additional 3 years after general surgery or 6 years in an integrated program directly after medical school.

Some surgeons opt for a fellowship to specialize further, adding 1-2 years in areas like hand surgery or cosmetic surgery.

Overall, the process typically takes 14-16 years after high school. The timeline can extend if pursuing optional fellowships, extra certifications, or research, which can provide more specialized skills but also require additional time.

The Bottom Line

Becoming a plastic surgeon is a long but rewarding journey, allowing you to make changes in people’s lives and boost their self-esteem. From undergraduate studies to residency and board certification, this process can take up to 16 years. The career possibilities, however, are vast, which makes plastic surgery highly sought-after. It’s a path that demands dedication, consistent effort, and a passion for surgery and patient care.

If you’re passionate about helping others and fascinated by the field of plastic surgery, this fulfilling career is worth the time and effort!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

How much does a plastic surgeon earn in the USA?

Plastic surgeons in the United States earn an average annual salary of around $195,023, but this can vary widely based on experience, location, and the type of practice.

Which degree is best for a plastic surgeon?

The best degree for an aspiring plastic surgeon is a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), followed by specialized residency and fellowship training in plastic surgery.

What is the difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon?

A plastic surgeon is trained to perform cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries, whereas a cosmetic surgeon focuses solely on aesthetic procedures to enhance appearance, often without the comprehensive surgical training that a board-certified plastic surgeon has.

Which country is best for plastic surgery?

South Korea is often considered the best country for plastic surgery due to its high number of skilled surgeons, advanced techniques, and significant focus on aesthetic procedures, particularly in Seoul.

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