What Is the Difference Between Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery?
By Atlanta Plastic & Reconstructive Specialists, on January 27, 2015
The terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are often used interchangeably in everyday conversation. While they are within the same general field of medicine, there are some significant differences that should be noted. At no time is this more important as when researching and choosing a surgeon to perform your cosmetic procedure. A misunderstanding of these terms can lead to confusion about the experience and specialty of a particular surgeon, two extremely important factors in a patient’s decision.
Different Goals, Different Outcomes
Plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are not one and the same; the training process and practice goals are different for each. The focus in plastic surgery is on the repair of defects to restore normal appearance and function. Breast reconstruction after a mastectomy, or skin repair after severe burning are good examples. Cosmetic surgery, a subset of plastic surgery, is focused on aesthetic enhancement, and the procedures are elective in nature. Rhinoplasties, face lifts, and tummy tucks are all examples of functioning areas electively treated with cosmetic surgery.
How is Training in These Fields Different?
Cosmetic surgery training is separate from plastic surgery training. Training for a plastic surgery specialty is completed through a post-graduate residency program. There are several required training categories, including hand surgery, congenital defect repair, and reconstructive surgery. Only one of these categories is devoted to cosmetic procedures like facial surgery and liposuction. In contrast, there is currently no residency available for cosmetic surgery, so training is typically completed in a post-residency fellowship. This includes training above and beyond what is necessary to specialize in plastic surgery (a few hundred completed cosmetic procedures are required to graduate, as opposed to less than one hundred for a plastic surgeon).
Who Can Perform Cosmetic Surgery?
Surgeons from a variety of medical fields perform cosmetic surgeries or procedures. In fact, any licensed physician can legally perform cosmetic surgery, regardless of how they received their training. This is why, for example, you might see dentists offering Botox injections, OB/GYN offices offering laser hair removal, or general surgeons performing breast augmentations. Training for cosmetic procedures can sometimes be as limited as a weekend seminar, and the consequences can be dire.
A board-certified plastic surgeon has a specific level of training in the area of plastic surgery, a portion of which includes cosmetic procedures. A plastic surgeon’s training may or may not include experience in common cosmetic procedures. This is not to say that you should not choose a board certified plastic surgeon to perform a procedure you are considering. Both board certified plastic and cosmetic surgeons may have the required experience to perform a procedure with excellent results (in fact, some surgeons are board certified in both areas). The bottom line is that it is extremely important for patients to do adequate research when choosing a surgeon to perform cosmetic surgery. Be sure to choose one that is well qualified and practiced in the specific procedure desired.
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