Understanding the role of a plastic surgeon

March 24, 2016

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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plastic surgeon

Plastic surgery is one of the most misunderstood medical specialties. Most people consider this as a field that deals purely with enhancing a person’s looks or general appearance, but this is far from true.

While plastic surgery does put a little extra emphasis on the aesthetic outcome of the surgery, the primary focus is on repairing and reconstructing abnormalities in the form and functioning of the muscles, skeletal system, skin and other areas of the body. For example, in burn victims, plastic surgeons perform lengthy procedures to restore the functioning of the facial muscles while also reconstructing the skin to improve aesthetics.

A day in the life

As a plastic surgeon, you’ll find that every day at work brings new challenges as you address each patient’s need for healthy form and function, along with an appropriate aesthetic result. Due to the wide range of abnormalities you will encounter in this role, you’ll need to be skilled in multiple areas.

Some of the procedures you will need to be skilled in range from management of complicated wounds and designing surgical grafts, to implantation of tissues and reconstruction of various body parts following medically necessary procedures such as mastectomies.

Education and training

Becoming a plastic surgeon takes years of additional study after graduating from medical school. To be competent in this field you need to have strong knowledge of the sciences along with outstanding manual dexterity and extensive knowledge of the technical aspects of surgery. You also need to have a calm demeanour, solid ethics and excellent communication skills as you will be working with different types of patients who may have unrealistic expectations of what surgery can provide for them, aesthetically speaking. In this respect, patient satisfaction can be quite a balancing act for a plastic surgeon.

Workplace settings

As a plastic surgeon, you can have considerable flexibility in where you choose to work as well as the area you decide to specialise in. You can work in a hospital in the trauma unit, or you may have your own private practice or work in academia or research.

With regards to areas of practice you may choose to focus on patients who have experienced physical trauma, or you could specialise in elective surgeries such as breast augmentation, tummy tucks, rhinoplasty and other cosmetic procedures.

Many experienced plastic surgeons often choose to travel to developing and underserved countries to offer their skills free of charge to treat children with congenital abnormalities such as cleft palate and other medical issues that would otherwise be unaffordable in these countries. In this role, you would have many opportunities to provide much-needed surgery to people around the world.

Whether you like the idea of restoring function and aesthetics after a trauma, or you are more interested in helping improve a patient’s self-esteem and confidence, a career as a plastic surgeon is hugely rewarding.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.