Plastic vs. Cosmetic Surgeon

Published: January 2, 2017
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When researching a cosmetic surgical procedure, a potential patient will often encounter some providers that are plastic surgeons, and others that are described as cosmetic surgeons. Many people are not clear on what this actually means. Is there a real difference? The answer is most definitely yes, and those differences can be very important factors that determine whether the patient’s procedure is done in the best, and safest manner. Below are important facts regarding the differences between plastic and cosmetic surgeons.

Training for plastic surgery

After completing medical school, all board-certified plastic surgeons must first serve as a surgical resident for a minimum of three years. During this time they undergo rigorous training in all aspects of surgery, followed by an additional three years where they focus on training specifically for plastic surgery. This process can take 6 – 8 years or more. Many also further their training by participating in fellowships in areas such as: microvascular, craniofacial, hand, pediatric and aesthetic. This is a key differentiator between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon.

Training for cosmetic surgery

A practitioner referring to themselves as a cosmetic surgeon might belong to any medical specialty. He/she could be a general surgeon, gynecologist, dermatologist, family physician, internist, etc. In short, any medical specialist who has decided that they want to perform cosmetic procedures can call themselves a “cosmetic surgeon”.

The level of training for cosmetic surgeons can be anywhere from a one year cosmetic surgery fellowship to a handful of short weekend courses on topics ranging from how to perform liposuction, utilize injectables, or place breast implants. The training necessary is nowhere near as intensive/demanding as the training for a true plastic surgeon.

Board certification for plastic surgeons

It is always important to confirm that a plastic surgeon has been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which is the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to certify doctors in the specialty of plastic surgery. Only ABPS diplomates can call themselves a plastic surgeon.

Board certification for cosmetic surgeons

Cosmetic surgeons who claim to be board-certified may have received their certificate from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. This board is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Alternatively, they may be certified by their specialty board which may not even be a surgical specialty, such as internal medicine. It can be very misleading to go to a cosmetic surgeon who claims to be board-certified because it is not always clear just what that board certification entails.

Reconstructive surgery

It is important to note that while all plastic surgeons have extensive training and can perform both reconstructive surgery and aesthetic/cosmetic surgery, not all cosmetic surgeons can perform reconstructive surgery. The reason is that not all cosmetic surgeons have received the type of aesthetic training as plastic surgeons.

Check the credentials before you consider having any type of cosmetic procedure

In conclusion, if you are considering any type of aesthetic/cosmetic procedure it is prudent to be aware of the education and training of the surgeon you’re considering for your procedure. Three of the surgeons at Edina Plastic Surgery – Dr. Nathan Leigh, Dr. Robert Wilke and Dr. Michael Philbin – are board-certified plastic surgeons and have the highest levels of training and certification, and our fourth is board-eligible.

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