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How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

Plastic surgeons are healthcare professionals who offer reconstructive services for people who want to change their appearance. But, these cosmetic doctors also assist people whose appearance has been altered in an accident or those who are recovering from an illness that has altered their appearance.

This is a very lucrative career in healthcare since the demand for cosmetic surgery is constantly on the rise. If you want to become a plastic surgeon, read on to see how you can reach your goal.

What Is a Plastic Surgeon?

Plastic surgeons perform both cosmetic and recovery surgery. Recovery surgery is aimed at helping patients get back on their feet and improve their lives.

Cosmetic surgery is performed on patients who want to change their appearance for aesthetic reasons. It is intended to increase patients’ self-esteem and improve their quality of life.

What Does a Plastic Surgeon Do?

Plastic surgeons conduct surgeries for people who want to improve the functionality or appearance of their bodies. Below is a list of some of the tasks that a plastic surgeon might complete.

Cosmetic surgery

As mentioned above, plastic surgeons can perform cosmetic operations. However, much of their work involves patients who have experienced trauma or an accident that has damaged their appearance.

Reconstructive surgery

Reconstructive surgery is for patients whose body parts have been somehow damaged, for example in a car accident.

Scar revision surgery

Scar revision surgery is a combination of both of the surgical operations we mentioned above. It can relate to both the functionality and appearance of the body.

Essential Plastic Surgeon Skills

Besides technical skills such as general surgery knowledge, there are many other indispensable soft and hard skills that aspiring plastic surgeons should have. Let’s look at some of the most important ones below.

Motor Skills

Strong motor skills are essential to plastic surgery. Hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and patience are key to performing high-risk procedures.

Teamwork Skills

Plastic surgeons usually work as part of a team of other medical professionals, including assistants, nurses, and anesthesiologists. Therefore, you must have teamwork skills. Being an effective team player and valuing the work of others is important to success in this field.

Communication Skills

Communicating with both patients and colleagues before and during surgery is of utmost importance. Your ability to communicate could drastically affect your patients’ lives, so it is important to have high communication standards.

Problem-solving Skills

As a plastic surgeon, you will need to be able to overcome any issues that could occur during a procedure. Problem-solving skills are imperative to the daily tasks of a plastic surgeon.

Plastic Surgeon Salary and Job Outlook

The 2020 Medscape Plastic Surgeon Compensation Report states that the average salary for a plastic surgeon is $479,000. This is a very high income compared to other medical professionals.

However, this compensation is due to the high level of training and skills required for the job and the risk involved when dealing with people’s lives.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for plastic surgeons is expected to grow by 14 percent between 2016 and 2026. This means that 6,500 new jobs will be created in the field.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Plastic Surgeon?

Keep in mind that this is a very challenging career. It requires a lot of training and experience in order to succeed. To start working, you must attend 14 years of medical school, then receive a certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS).

Before you start your medical training, you will need to get your bachelor’s degree. You may want to consider majoring in science, biology, chemistry, or any other scientific field that will benefit you later in your learning process.

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon: A Step-by-Step Guide

It’s not hard to find out how long it takes to be a doctor. Becoming a plastic surgeon is no different. You will still need to attend a higher education institution for more than a decade. 

  1. Obtain a bachelor's degree. In your pursuit of a plastic surgery career, you must first obtain a bachelor’s degree. This can be in any science-related area, such as biology or chemistry. Then, you can move on to a pre-med program at your current school, or one that specializes in medicine.

    ⁠Keep in mind that you’ll need to meet certain criteria to gain admission into a medical school. This includes passing the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and submitting letters of recommendation from professionals in the health care community.
  2. Complete a four-year doctor of medicine degree. Now, you will begin your journey to becoming a doctor. Before getting a specialization in plastic surgery, you need to complete your four-year education as a doctor of medicine.

    ⁠The first two years of this degree will be devoted to subjects like microbiology, biochemistry, physiology, and pharmacology. The remaining two years will involve practice, and you’ll be directly in touch with patients while completing clinical rotations.
  3. Obtain a license. You will be required to pass the US Medical Licensing Examination before you can perform surgical procedures. The exam consists of three parts and will evaluate your level of understanding of basic and advanced medical concepts.
  4. Complete a residency. After you have your license, the next step is to complete a three-year residency program in general surgery. At this point, you will practice different types of surgeries and showcase your skills. 

    ⁠Once the three years are over, you will move on to a four-year residency in plastic surgery. You’ll perform a variety of plastic surgery procedures while working at a health care institution. Some possible types of surgery include hand surgery, breast surgery, wound recovery, and facial surgery. 
  5. Complete a fellowship in a subspecialty. This step is optional, but if you want to specialize, you can begin to do so once your residencies are completed. Plastic surgeons can choose to specialize in aesthetic surgery, body contouring, hand surgery, or many other areas.
  6. Apply for jobs. Now that you’ve completed your education, it’s time to apply for jobs. Plastic surgeons are in high demand, so you shouldn’t struggle to find openings.

Education Required to Become a Plastic Surgeon

The education required to become a plastic surgeon starts at the bachelor’s level, with any science degree acceptable. Then, you should move on to pre-med and medical school. You should also keep in mind that you’ll need to go through clinical rotations for six years. Altogether, this amounts to 13 to 14 years of training.

Best Programs and Courses to Become a Plastic Surgeon

Choosing the right school is vital when it comes to working in health care. Getting the best possible education will increase your credibility and your overall performance as a plastic surgeon. Below are some of the best institutions for studying plastic surgery.

  • Harvard Medical School
  • Johns Hopkins University 
  • The University of Chicago
  • Washington University in St. Louis
  • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Plastic Surgery Certificates

Once you’ve had some experience in the field, you can get board certification. Only surgeons with the necessary expertise can acquire these accreditations. Below are the two possible certificates:

  • The American Board of Medical Specialties Certification: To complete the ABMS certification, you need to pass an oral and written test.
  • The American Board of Plastic Surgery Certification: The ABPS is more specialized than the ABMS. To get this accreditation, you’ll need to pass a written and an oral exam to showcase your skills.

Should You Become a Plastic Surgeon in 2020?

There’s no better time to pursue a career as a plastic surgeon. They are in high demand and will continue to be for years. It is also one of the highest-paid medical professions.

Most plastic surgeons say the job is very rewarding due to the gratitude of patients, according to a Medscape survey in 2012. Plastic surgery will be a good career choice for you if you are interested in helping people while also learning more about medicine and science.


What is a plastic surgeon's work environment like?
A surgeon’s work environment differs depending on what path they have specialized in.  They may work in trauma wards, hospitals, private practices, or outpatient clinics.  Plastic surgeons often work more than 40 hours a week, especially when dealing with emergency surgeries.  Some doctors prefer to work independently in a private clinic. This way, they can have more control over their finances and schedule. However, the cost of maintaining a private setting can be very high at first, although it can pay off after you have built up a dedicated base of clients.
How many steps are there in the US Medical Licensing Examination?
The USMLE consists of three steps. The first test is an assessment of your medical knowledge and must be completed in your second year of medical school.  The second step is two sections and takes two days to complete. These tests will evaluate your practical skills through patient simulations and questions. The third step must be completed in your first year of residency. It assesses your ability to help patients without being supervised.
What is the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery?
Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they have some basic differences. Plastic surgeons perform operations on people who need to address damages from accidents or birth conditions. Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, carry out surgeries on patients who want to change their appearance without any medical necessity.
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