Becoming a reconstructive surgeon

June 11, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Everyone wants to look their best and, for some people, that may involve turning to a plastic surgeon to enhance their appearance. Reconstructive plastic surgery is not only about esthetics, but is also intended to restore function and improve quality of life.  

What is reconstructive surgery?

In the midst of a surgical procedure in a Tanzanian hospital.When you think of plastic surgery, you may think of cosmetic surgeries, such as facelifts and breast augmentation, but there is a lot more to the field of plastic surgery than that. Abnormalities to the structure of the body and face can occur due to trauma, infection, disease and burns. Abnormalities can also be congenital, which means something someone is born with. A cleft lip is an example of an abnormality present from birth.  

Whether a physical malformation or abnormality is something a person is born with or occurs later on in life, an abnormality can be difficult to live with. A malformation or deformity may cause a person to be self-conscious and limit social interactions. Some physical deformities can also interfere with normal functioning and even make certain tasks impossible.

In some cases, the goal of reconstructive surgery may be to improve appearance, such as in breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. But reconstructive surgery is also performed in order to correct abnormal structure in order to improve functioning.

Job description

A reconstructive surgeon’s job starts with assessing the patient to determine if they are a candidate for surgery. The assessment involves a physical exam, medical history and possibly ordering various medical tests. Once it is determined a patient can undergo reconstructive surgery, the surgeon will decide the best surgical approach to take.

After the surgeon completes the surgery, he or she will also be involved in patient follow up to determine what additional care or further procedures a person will need. Depending on the abnormality involved, reconstructive surgery may be performed in steps, being broken down into different surgeries over a period spanning months or years.  

Education requirements and training

After earning a four year degree and completing medical school, a reconstructive surgeon will need to complete a surgical residency. There are a couple of different pathways available to those interested in becoming reconstructive plastic surgeons. Some plastic surgeons first complete a five year general surgery residency, which involves performing a variety of surgeries, such as colorectal and cardiovascular surgery. A second three year residency is then completed in plastic surgery, which includes reconstructive surgery.

A second residency option involves a direct path into plastic surgery that involves completing a six year residency. Some experience in general surgery for the first three years is still mandatory, such as orthopedic, but rotations in certain types of general surgery are not required. The next three years of the residency are spent doing plastic surgery. This path, known as the integrated pathway, shaves two years off the road to becoming a reconstructive surgeon.


The salaries for plastic reconstructive surgeons vary depending on their place of employment. The median salary in 2013 for a reconstructive plastic surgeon in the United States was $340,000.