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Cosmetic Surgeons vs. Plastic Surgeons: What’s the Difference?

Surgeon in scrubs

In preparation for surgery of any kind, it’s wise to do just what you’re doing now: research. The Internet is an invaluable resource, but when it comes to medical information, it sometimes creates more confusion than clarification. One question I often get from patients considering cosmetic surgery concerns the difference between plastic and cosmetic surgeons. What’s the difference?

The Cosmetic vs. Plastic Distinction

Cosmetic surgery is focused on aesthetics, while plastic surgery aims to reconstruct facial and body parts that are defective or non-functional.

  • Cosmetic surgery is a very specialized discipline that focuses on improving a person’s appearance with various surgical procedures.
  • Plastic surgery is a branch of medicine that aims to reconstruct physical deformities resulting from birth defects, diseases such as cancer, and traumatic events like fires or car accidents.

Cosmetic Surgeons: Training and Qualification

Cosmetic surgeons often come from a wide array of diverse specialized residency backgrounds because there is no medical residency specifically designed for cosmetic surgery. Each cosmetic surgeon brings to his or her practice not only expertise from another specialized field, such as general surgery or dermatology, but also the additional benefit of extensive, concentrated training in the many procedures that comprise cosmetic surgery.

While you may hear a lot about board-certification in plastic surgery, this credential does not necessarily convey mastery of the field of cosmetic surgery. After 5 years of General Surgery training, I completed an elective year of specialized training with the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery, which is an additional yearlong fellowship focused entirely of cosmetic surgery of the face and body. This is cosmetic-specific training that many plastic surgeons simply do not have.

If you are considering a cosmetic procedure, look closely at the doctor’s credentials in addition to other factors, such as the results they have achieved in before and after photos, patient satisfaction, pricing, and your overall comfort and rapport with the doctor.

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April 20, 2014
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