Plastic Surgeon vs Cosmetic Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

By: Beth Phillips

Plastic surgery is a booming business! With the aging population feeling over all healthier and more vibrant than in previous decades, the number of plastic surgical procedures being performed is at an all-time high. Since 2000, overall procedures have risen 115%! Young women (and men) that follow celebrities such as the Kardashians have also jumped on the bandwagon. These days, there seem to be fewer stigmas attached to cosmetic procedures, and many people equate it with elevated financial and social status.

When a patient begins a search for a doctor to perform aesthetic surgery, many are unaware that there is a difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon. Cosmetic surgery is performed by many physicians, but unfortunately, some are not under the guidance of a properly credentialed board. Many physicians can be called ”cosmetic surgeons,” but they need to be credentialed by the American Board of Plastic Surgery in order to call themselves a Plastic Surgeon.

Cosmetic vs Plastic Surgery Training

Following medical school (usually at least four years), a board-certified plastic surgeon must complete at least three years of general surgical training, followed by three years of focused plastic surgery training. Many go on for further fellowships in specific sub- specialties such as microsurgery or craniofacial surgery. Plastic surgical training takes a minimum of six years, and many board-certified plastic surgeons have 10 or more years of post medical school training. This education is the key difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon.

A practitioner referring to themselves as a “cosmetic surgeon” can belong to any medical specialty. They could be a general surgeon, OB/GYN, family practitioner, internist, etc. The training in cosmetic surgery could be a one-year fellowship, or a weekend course. The difficulty lies in there being no unified board that oversees all of these other practitioners. The level of training can vary radically, and does not mirror the training of a board-certified plastic surgeon.

Why are these standards so important? It truly requires an understanding of the reconstructive principles learned during plastic surgery training to be fully competent to perform a cosmetic procedure. Although a breast implant could be placed easily by a non certified surgeon, if a complication arose, is that surgeon adept and experienced to address the complications?

Board Certification

It is important to confirm that your surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. This is the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to certify doctors in Plastic Surgery. Facial Plastic Surgeons are specialty trained to perform plastic surgery of the face, and Oculoplastic Surgeons are certified to perform plastic surgery of the eye and brow. These surgeons have completed additional accreditations in these fields. Some cosmetic surgeons who claim to be board certified may have received their certificate from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.

The bottom line is to be an informed consumer and ask is your surgeon certified, and if so, in what?Furthermore, whatever the procedure is to be performed; the surgeon should have privileges to perform that same procedure in a hospital. Hospitals will only grant privileges if the surgeon has met strict guidelines and demonstrated proper competency and training. Additionally, the surgeon should have admitting privileges at a local hospital should there be any complications requiring admission. This should be asked, and it is easily confirmed by calling the hospital and asking if the surgeon has privileges there.

If you are considering any aesthetic surgery, it is imperative that you be aware of who is performing your surgery and the education and training which they have received.

Surgery of any type is something that should be taken seriously: you want to be sure that the best-qualified surgeon is the one performing your procedure. Please consult The American Board of Plastic Surgery website for a listing of board-certified plastic surgeons.(