Plastic surgery is often combined with cosmetic procedures such as rhinoplasty or liposuction. And while this is an important aspect of what plastic surgeons do, it is not the only goal.
These doctors also frequently correct birth defects, such as cleft palate, and perform reconstructive surgeries. These cases are often covered by medical insurance, while elective cosmetic surgeries are paid for out of pocket.
Plastic surgeons are well paid, but this career requires the best college degrees and considerable education and training. If you’re considering embarking on the long academic journey necessary for this field, here’s what you need to know.
What to study if you want to become a plastic surgeon
Prospective plastic surgeons in the United States must earn a bachelor’s degree and medical degree, and they must spend at least six years in specialty residency training after medical school.
Anyone who knows early on that they dream of becoming a plastic surgeon should learn about the visual arts and start making art themselves, and they should study hard in their science classes, experts say.
Once in college, aspiring plastic surgeons must complete all required pre-medical courses for admission to medical school and meet the explicit or implicit admission requirements at their target schools, including GPA expectations, MCAT scores, clinical experience and research projects. During medical school, prospective plastic surgeons should aim for high marks, especially in surgery-related courses, since matching a plastic surgery residency usually requires impeccable academic credentials.
The preferred and fastest route into the field after medical school is through an integrated plastic surgery residency, which covers the essentials of reconstructive or cosmetic procedures and involves an abundance of supervised practice. These residencies last about six years and are very selective. Some candidates instead pursue a residency in a related field such as general surgery or ear, nose, and throat surgery, followed by practical training in plastic surgery, although this approach takes longer.
If prospective surgeons wish to become experts in a particular segment of plastic surgery, such as sex reassignment operations, they may need to pursue a fellowship in that field after completing their residency and before beginning their career.
Once these individuals complete their training, they must seek certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgeons’ board of directors. They will also need a medical license in the jurisdiction in which they intend to work, and they can seek certification from a professional organization that is dedicated to a specific branch of plastic surgery.
Other skills and qualifications required
Plastic surgery requires significant spatial awareness, an eye for visual detail, strong artistic skills, and precise hand-eye coordination. The field involves reimagining and reshaping human anatomy, so plastic surgeons must be able to visualize what their work will accomplish and – since the same operation can often be performed in multiple ways – be strategic about methods and techniques they use.
Creative hobbies like drawing or 3D printing cultivate the aesthetic sensibility needed for plastic surgery, experts say. Future surgeons should also learn as much as possible about human anatomy, which is why experts suggest taking intensive courses in this area in college and medical school.
However, the most important thing potential plastic surgeons can do to increase their chances of success is to study hard and excel in school throughout their college careers, says Dr. Jordan Frey, plastic surgeon at Erie County Medical Center in New York.
“Certain grade thresholds and test score thresholds are used in the application process for residencies,” Frey says, adding that plastic surgery residencies are particularly competitive.
Plastic surgeons are typically people who achieved near-perfect grades in high school, college and medical school, with particularly strong results in science courses, experts say.
According to experts, future plastic surgeons should also be exposed to as much plastic surgery as possible via shadowing doctors as premeds and via clinical rotations during medical school.
Attending conferences and talks about plastic surgery is a great way to make contacts in the field and meet potential mentors, says Dr. Nicholas Jones, a prominent Atlanta-based plastic and reconstructive surgeon who leads the practice. of Nip & Tuck plastic surgery.
“If you were exposed earlier, it will let you know what kinds of things you need to do to set yourself up for success,” he says.
Reasons to Consider a Career in Plastic Surgery
Plastic surgeons can restore the aesthetics of a person’s body after the removal of cancerous or infected body parts, and they can excise scar tissue and replace it if a patient has suffered a major burn. Plastic surgery is sometimes a follow-up procedure after organ amputation.
People disfigured by accidents or illnesses often wish to erase the marks of these painful experiences from their bodies. Dr. Bruce Mast, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Florida School of Medicine, notes that restoring injured patients to a look of their original appearance that they have lost is often very fulfilling.
Strictly cosmetic operations can also be satisfying, says Mast, vice president of the board for academic affairs for the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, or ASPS. “It can make a huge difference for people, and it’s also very rewarding.”
Plastic surgery is one of the most lucrative fields in medicine. A compensation study published by Medscape, a media outlet for medical professionals, found that plastic surgeons were the highest paid doctors in 2021, earning an average annual salary of $576,000 that year.
Over the past two decades, the demand for plastic surgery has risen sharply. The number of plastic surgery procedures in 2019 — the year before the pandemic shutdowns, which closed many plastic surgery offices in the United States — was about 41% higher than it was in 2000, according to the statistics published by the SSPA.
What is unique about plastic surgery, according to physicians in the field, is that it caters to all demographics of the general population, ranging from children to the elderly, and encompasses nearly every component external to the human body.
And even for elective surgery, not all clients are wealthy – Dr Jones says he sometimes sees people of modest means who save money to pay for their surgeries.
Who Should Consider Plastic Surgery Training
Because the path to this job is arduous and the daily work is demanding, compensation cannot be the only goal for someone entering the career. “It’s manual labor,” says Jones, adding that plastic surgery tends to take longer than other forms of surgery.
Dr. Jennifer Sivak-Callcott, president of the American Society of Opthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, says that skills of visual observation and imagination are essential in the field of plastic surgery.
“If you can’t see things in three dimensions, it’s going to be hard to be a very good cosmetic or reconstructive surgeon,” she says.