Exploring the Field of Plastic Surgery: Helping Others Become Their Best Selves

March 8, 2014

All about how to become a plastic surgeon…

When we think of plastic surgery, our mind often wanders west to Hollywood, where surgeons to the stars are highly paid for crafting an already beautiful starlet into a masterpiece of physical perfection.  However, the field of plastic surgery, also known as cosmetic surgery or reconstructive surgery, is much broader and comprehensive than what we see on the big screen.  If you are interested in a medical profession in which you help patients become their best selves, consider a career in plastic surgery.  Let’s explore this field in depth.

Specialties Within the Field

Plastic surgery is much, much more than tummy tucks and nose jobs, though these are two very common procedures done by plastic surgeons.  There are multiple sub-specialties within plastic surgery, and your choice of career path depends upon your professional and personal goals as a medical professional.  Here are some plastic surgery sub-specialties that you will want to consider as you begin your career exploration:

-Cosmetic Surgery: You’ll be working with patients who elect to improve their appearances through surgical procedures.  These are frequently voluntary procedures that patients seek to make themselves look and feel better.  Plastic surgeons who pursue this path will consult with patients to provide the best course of improvement to meet their aesthetic goals.  Liposuction, breast augmentation, and facelifts all fall under the domain of the cosmetic surgeon.

Healthcare internships in Africa-Microsurgery:  This subspecialty of plastic surgery involves moving and replacing tissue within the body. Expect to work with cancer patients who require reconstruction, often within the breast, neck, and head.

-Burn Surgery: Victims of fires require specialized plastic surgery performed by a burn surgeon. They address immediate burn issues as well as provide follow-up plastic surgery as skin condition improves.

-Craniofacial Surgery: This is a broad subspecialty with multiple categories. You can work to repair pediatric facial deformities; you can work with accident/injury victims who require reconstruction from facial injuries (e.g., broken eye sockets and fractured jaws). Because children and adults have different facial construction needs, you’ll choose a subspecialty if you elect to become a craniofacial surgeon.

Training and Education

There are two routes that you can take to become a plastic surgeon, and your choice depends upon your motivation and interests. The path starts in your undergraduate studies. Work towards a high GPA in the major of your choice (remember, a science degree is not required for medical school admission, but a set of pre-requisite science courses is necessary). Score well on the MCAT. Pursue medical volunteering and internship opportunities and obtain glowing letters of recommendation.  You may consider taking classes in psychology and anatomy during your undergraduate studies as well.  Frequently, patients seeking plastic surgery modifications have psychological issues that they are hoping to resolve through plastic surgery procedures. Having a foundation in human thinking and motivations will help you along your professional path.  Once you gain admission into medical school, you’ll begin the real training towards your career. Take full advantage of opportunities to work with surgeons in both pediatrics and adult medicine. After you complete your medical degree, your training path can go one of two ways:

-Traditional Plastic Surgery Training: Complete a 5-7 year general surgery residency followed by a 2-3 year plastic and reconstructive surgery fellowship.

-Integrated Plastic Surgery Training: Complete a three year general surgery residency followed by a three year plastic surgery fellowship.  This route is becoming the standard for training plastic surgeons in the USA.

Finally, to complete your training and confirm your surgical competency, you’ll need to become board certified through a rigorous exam process administered by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

Your Patients

Your chosen subspecialty within plastic surgery will determine the kinds of patients that you will see.  If you pursue cosmetic surgery, you can expect to have more female than male patients.  If you pursue a pediatric plastic surgery career, you’ll provide services to children and adolescents.  People of all ages, races, genders, and socioeconomic classes can fall victim to accident, injury, or disfiguring illness, so if you pursue the subspecialties of burn surgery, microsurgery, or craniofacial surgery, you can expect to see a variety of patients across all demographics. There is one thing that your patients will have in common: they will rely on you to repair, reshape, and refine their physical Helping on the neonatal ward appearances and body functions.  It will be your responsibility to communicate their treatment options and the risks involved in these procedures. Also, you’ll need to be a compassionate advocate for families and caretakers, since plastic surgery procedures often require follow up care and monitoring.  Because plastic surgery is often a family decision, having a sympathetic bedside manner is a key quality to this profession.

Salaries and Career Outlook

Plastic surgeons are one of the highest compensated medical professionals.  The average salary of a plastic surgeon is $270,000.  Your salary can be significantly higher though if you work in a hospital or run your own private practice; 15% of plastic surgeons earn over $500,000 annually.  Because of the extensive training involved in becoming a plastic surgeon, there is a great demand for medical professionals specializing in this area of medicine.

Where the Need for Plastic Surgeons is Greatest

Within the US, Florida is the state in which the most plastic surgeries are performed.  Due to the aging Baby Boomer population, there will be an increase in demand for plastic surgery procedures both superficial and invasive. Additionally, rural areas with limited access to specialists are always in need of plastic surgeons to assist in reconstruction after injury, accident, or disease. If you are interested in going abroad, there are many areas throughout the developing world that would benefit from the expertise of a plastic surgeon to repair childhood deformities and injuries from war.

Is This the Right Specialty For You?

A career as a plastic surgeon might be right for you if you have the endurance to complete the training and the ability to remain calm under pressure and in the face of serious patient concerns and demands.  This career requires a steady hand and an eye for aesthetics. If you choose this path, you’ll be rewarded both financially and professionally. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.