I know there has been a lot of confusion lately with the terms plastic surgeon versus cosmetic surgeon, so I have decided to write a short summary describing some of the major differences in order to educate patients. I think it is very important from a safety and satisfaction standpoint to understand the differences. You should be well-informed before undergoing any type of surgery- not just about the procedure itself but also regarding the credentials of your surgeon.
Plastic Surgery: What it is and the different types
The word plastic in Plastic Surgery is derived from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to mold or shape. There are two main fields of plastic surgery (reconstructive and aesthetic) with different subsets. Reconstructive surgery involves the restoration of almost any body part that is abnormal due to a trauma, cancer, congenital birth defects, etc. Typically reconstructive surgery is covered by insurance. Aesthetic surgery (sometimes referred to as cosmetic surgery) is the enhancement of the body or re-shaping normal tissue to improve appearance, which is considered elective surgery and generally not covered by insurance.
Plastic Surgeons vs Cosmetic Surgeons: The BIG difference
Following completion of medical school, a plastic surgeon serves first as a surgical resident for at least 2-3 years where they undergo rigorous training in all aspects of surgery and then at least 3 years of focused plastic surgery training. The training process takes a minimum of 6 years after completion of medical school; many surgeons further their training in fellowships including aesthetic, hand, craniomaxillofacial, pediatric, and microvascular.
A practitioner referring to himself/herself as a cosmetic surgeon might belong to any medical specialty, not necessarily one surgically-based. They can range from gynecologists, dermatologists, ophthalmologists, oral surgeons, etc., who have decided that they want to perform cosmetic procedures. The training can be limited to anywhere from a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship to a handful of short weekend courses on topics ranging from how to perform body contouring (liposuction), place breast implants, perform liposuction, utilize injectables, etc. To put it simply, would you want someone who spent most of their training focused on gynecology performing your facelift? Or would you want an oral (cosmetic) surgeon to perform your breast augmentation? If there was an unexpected hernia discovered while doing your tummy tuck, would you want an ophthalmologist with 1 year of cosmetic surgery training to repair that hernia?
It is always important to confirm that a plastic surgeon has been (or is in the process) of certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) - 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. Other countries have their own governing boards.
A Facial Plastic Surgeon has Ear, Nose, and Throat Surgery training and performs aesthetic surgery of the face, and an Occuloplastic surgeon can perform aesthetic surgery around the eyes after an Ophthalmology residency.
Cosmetic surgeons who claim to be board-certified may have received their certificate from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties and has a much lesser set of standards. Alternatively, they may be certified by their specialty board, which may not even be a surgical specialty, such as internal medicine. Cosmetic surgeons referring to themselves as board-certified can be misleading if you don't know the right questions to ask.
Wrapping it Up
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. You can verify the credentials of a doctor by checking with your state medical board or verify you are seeing a board-certified plastic surgeon whose practice focuses on aesthetic surgery. Your physician's office must legally disclose this to you if requested, or you can contact your state medical board to inquire.
I hope this helps to clear up any confusion. If you have questions, please feel free to contact me at Plastic Surgery Center of Tulsa at 918.712.0888.
Brenda Schiesel, D.O.