Plastic Surgeon or Cosmetic Surgeon: What You Should Know Before Choosing

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You’ve heard the words plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery, but did you know there’s a difference between the two? While they are often used interchangeably in casual conversation, there are some differences that you should know about, especially if such a surgery is something you’re considering.

What’s the difference between plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery? One of the most notable differences is that cosmetic surgery is elective. Plastic surgery is a form of surgical treatment used to reconstruct areas of the body and face that are not functioning properly, usually due to trauma, birth disorders or a disease. Cosmetic surgery can be performed anywhere on the body; this form of surgery is often used to enhance an area that is functioning properly yet does not meet the aesthetic standards or desires of the patient.

Plastic surgery has many facets, such as replacement, repair and even reconstruction of a particular site. It covers a vast number of functions, ranging from the craniomaxillofacial, or mouth, jaw, neck and skull structures, to skin and trunk reconstruction. Plastic surgery can involve some level of cosmetic surgery, such as techniques used to enhance or optimize the results following a reconstructive surgery.
When it comes to the education and experience between plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons, there are some differences, which is why you should do your homework when seeking the right surgeon for your treatment. One of the most common issues when searching for the right surgeon is that many patients may not be fully informed about the differences, making it harder to find someone who is adequately qualified to perform the procedure.

According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in order to be fully qualified and certified, plastic surgeons must:
• Complete four years of medical school.
• Have at least six years of surgical training, with a minimum of three years’ experience in plastic surgery.
• Be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, or for those in Canada, The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada.
• Perform operations and treatments within a medical facility that is fully accredited.
• Adhere strictly to a code of ethics and continuing necessary medical education to incorporate innovative techniques and updated standards to enhance levels of patient safety and experience.

The American Board of Medical Specialties recognizes 24 member boards; the American Board of Plastic Surgery is one of them. Can a plastic surgeon perform your procedure, even if it’s cosmetic rather than reconstructive? The answer is affirmative.

The requirements of the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery focus on slightly different training. A cosmetic surgeon must:
• Complete four years of medical school
• Complete four to six years of medical residency in one of these specialties: general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, otolaryngology, plastic surgery, dermatology or ophthalmology, in addition to becoming board certified in the specialty.
• Complete a one-year fellowship, for candidates in general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, oral and maxillofacial surgery, otolaryngology or plastic surgery; ophthalmologic surgeons are required to complete a two-year fellowship.
• Perform a minimum of 300 cosmetic surgery procedures prior to application for certification.
• Perform surgeries in a fully accredited facility, undergo re-examination every ten years, and comply with a strict code of ethics. 

Once you’re ready to move forward with your procedure, it’s important to ask the right questions so you have a good idea of what to expect before, during and after the treatment. The first question should be about board certification and training; what board is he or she certified by, and is the surgeon a member of the board. Subsequent questions should relate to the surgery itself, such as how many procedures of this type has the surgeon completed, which hospital do they have privileges with for surgical procedures, is the surgeon’s office facility accredited and licensed by a national or state-recognized agency, as well as the expected recovery time and limitations on activities you may have.

While there is always the possibility for risk or complications, choosing the most experienced and knowledgeable surgeon is the way to go, even if it takes a bit longer to narrow down your possible options. Depending on which procedure you have chosen, it’s a good idea to know what complications could arise, as well as how the surgeon would manage it.

Whether you’re going in for an elective cosmetic surgery or need something more reconstructive in nature, you deserve to have the most qualified and capable surgeon on hand. Asking questions and understanding what to expect is key in making a proper decision. ■

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