Plastic surgery is often associated with cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty or liposuction. And while this is an important aspect of what plastic surgeons do, it’s not the only focus.
These doctors also often correct congenital birth defects, such as cleft palate, and perform restorative surgeries. Such cases are often covered by health insurance, while elective cosmetic surgery is paid for out of pocket.
Plastic surgeons are well paid, but this career requires top academic credentials and extensive education and training. If you are considering embarking on the long academic journey required by this field, here is what you need to know.
What to study if you want to be a cosmetic surgeon
Prospective plastic surgeons in the United States must earn a bachelor’s degree, a medical degree, and complete at least six years of residency training after medical school.
Anyone who knows early on that they dream of becoming a plastic surgeon should educate themselves about fine arts and start making art themselves, and they should study diligently in their science classes, according to experts.
Upon graduation, prospective plastic surgeons must take all preparatory courses required for admission to medical school and meet explicit or implicit admissions requirements at their target schools, including expectations for GPAs, MCAT scores, clinical experience, and research projects. During medical school, prospective plastic surgeons should strive for good grades, especially in surgical courses, as adapting to a plastic surgery residency usually requires impeccable academic credentials.
The preferred and quickest route into the field after medical school is through an integrated residency in plastic surgery, which covers the fundamentals of reconstructive or cosmetic procedures and includes a wealth of supervised practice. These residencies last about six years and are very selective. Some candidates instead pursue residency in a related field, such as general or ear, nose and throat surgery, and then receive hands-on training in plastic surgery, although this approach takes longer.
If aspiring surgeons want to become experts in a specific segment of plastic surgery, e.g. B. Gender reassignment surgeries, they may need to pursue a fellowship in this field after completing their education and before starting their careers.
Once these individuals complete their training, they should seek board certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgeons. They also need a medical license in the jurisdiction in which they wish to work, and they can apply for certification from a professional organization dedicated to a specific branch of plastic surgery.
Other skills and credentials required
Plastic surgery requires a strong spatial awareness, an eye for visual detail, strong artistic skills, and precise hand-eye coordination. The field involves redesigning and remodeling the human anatomy, so plastic surgeons must be able to envision what their work will accomplish and—since the same surgery can often be performed multiple ways—to strategize which methods and techniques they will use use.
Creative hobbies like drawing or 3D printing cultivate the aesthetic sensitivity necessary for plastic surgery, experts say. Future surgeons should also learn as much as possible about human anatomy, so experts suggest taking intensive courses in this area in colleges and medical schools.
However, the most important thing prospective plastic surgeons can do to increase their chances of success is to study hard throughout their academic career and excel in school, says Dr. Jordan Frey, a plastic surgeon at Erie County Medical Center in New York.
“There are certain thresholds for grades and test scores that are used in the residency application process,” says Frey, adding that plastic surgery residencies are particularly competitive.
Plastic surgeons are generally people who got near-perfect grades in high school, college, and medical school, with particularly excellent results in science courses, experts say.
Future plastic surgeons should also be exposed to plastic surgery as much as possible, experts say, by shadowing doctors during premedication and through clinical rotations during medical school.
Attending plastic surgery lectures and discussions is a great way to network in the field and meet potential mentors, says Dr. Nicholas Jones, a prominent Atlanta plastic and reconstructive surgeon who runs the plastic surgery practice Nip & Tuck.
“If you’ve had contact before, you can know what things you need to do to be successful,” he says.
Reasons for a career in plastic surgery
Plastic surgeons can restore the aesthetics of a person’s body after removing cancerous or infected body parts, and they can remove and replace scar tissue when a patient has suffered a severe burn. Plastic surgery is sometimes a follow-up procedure to an organ amputation.
People disfigured by accident or illness often want to remove the traces of these painful experiences from their bodies. dr Bruce Mast, director of the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at the University of Florida College of Medicine, notes that giving injured patients back an aspect of their original appearance that they have lost is often deeply fulfilling.
Purely cosmetic surgeries can also be satisfying, says Mast, vice president of the board of academic affairs at the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). “It can make a huge difference for people, and that’s very rewarding too.”
Plastic surgery is one of the most lucrative areas of medicine. A compensation study published by Medscape, a media outlet for healthcare professionals, found that plastic surgeons were the highest-paid doctors in 2021, earning an average annual salary of $576,000 that year.
In the last two decades, the demand for plastic surgery has increased significantly. According to statistics released by ASPS, the number of plastic surgery procedures in 2019 — the year before the pandemic lockdown that shut down many U.S. plastic surgery practices — was about 41% higher than in 2000.
What is unique about plastic surgery, according to doctors in the field, is that it appeals to all demographics in the general population, from children to the elderly, and encompasses almost every external component of the human body.
And even with elective surgery, not all patients are wealthy – Dr. Jones says he sometimes sees people of modest means saving money to pay for their surgeries.
Who Should Consider Plastic Surgery Training?
Since the path to this job is difficult and everyday work is demanding, remuneration cannot be the sole focus of a career starter. “It’s manual work,” Jones says, adding that plastic surgery tends to be more time-consuming than other forms of surgery.
dr Jennifer Sivak-Callcott, President of the American Society of Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, says that keen visual observation and imagination are musts in the field of plastic surgery.
“If you’re not able to see things in 3D, it becomes difficult to be a really good aesthetic or reconstructive surgeon,” she says.