How to Become a Plastic Surgeon in 5 Steps
Research what it takes to become a plastic surgeon. Learn about job duties, education and licensing requirements to find out if this is the career for you.
What Does a Plastic Surgeon Do?
A plastic surgeon is a physician who performs cosmetic and reconstructive surgery on the skin, face and body. They may focus on a particular type of surgery, like breast augmentation or fixing cleft palates, or they may perform a variety of different procedures. Just like any other surgeon, they must be fully aware of a patient's medical history before preforming surgery and keep track of their vital signs during the procedure to make sure everything is going well. They also perform post-operative consultations to track the healing process. The following chart provides an overview about becoming a plastic surgeon.
|Degree Required||Doctor of medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.)|
|Training Required||3- to 6-year residency|
|Key Responsibilities||Examine and evaluate patients who have congenital deformities or defects from disease or injury; perform surgery to correct, reconstruct or repair physical or functional defects; perform cosmetic surgery|
|Licensure or Certification||Licensure is required in all states; board certification in a specialty plastic surgery is available|
|Job Growth (2018-2028)||7% (for all physicians and surgeons)*|
|Median Salary (2019)||$263,694 (for plastic surgeons)**|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **Payscale.com
What is a Plastic Surgeon?
As a plastic surgeon, you may perform elective surgery to enhance a person's appearance or required surgery to repair a physical defect or injury. When performing plastic surgery, you may employ special skills, such as using grafts, performing tissue transfers or inserting implantable materials. As part of your training, you may specialize in a specific type of plastic surgery.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Medical schools require that you complete premedical courses, including organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physics and biology, during your undergraduate years. You should also take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and obtain letters of recommendation from your mentors. Although it is not a strict requirement, most of those who gain admission to medical school earn a bachelor's degree in addition to taking the required premedical courses. Participating in extracurricular activities, working in a hospital and demonstrating leadership qualities may also make you a more competitive medical school candidate.
Step 2: Graduate From Medical School
Medical school requires two years of classroom training in the sciences, followed by two years of clinical rotations in various medical specialties. You will take courses in anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, microbiology and pharmacology. You then gain experience working with patients as you complete clinical rotations in family practice, internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, surgery and psychiatry. If you attend a traditional allopathic medical school, you will earn a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree. Alternatively, if you attend an osteopathic medical school, which places more emphasis on the musculoskeletal system and preventative medicine, you will earn a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree.
Step 3: Earn a License
All physicians must earn a license in order to practice medicine in the United States. If you are an M.D., you need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). If you are a D.O., you must pass the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam (COMLEX). The USMLE and COMLEX consist of three parts and test candidates on how well they apply basic science concepts to the practice of medicine.
Step 4: Complete a Plastic Surgery Residency
After you become a licensed physician, you have two options for plastic surgery training. You can complete three years in a general surgery residency followed by a 3-year plastic surgery residency, or you can complete a 6-year integrated residency that includes both types of training. During your general surgery training, you complete clinical rotations in different types of surgery, such as abdominal, breast, pediatric, trauma, cardiothoracic and neurological surgery.
Your plastic surgery training will include further rotations in areas like cosmetic, hand, reconstructive, laser, maxillofacial, otolaryngology and oculoplastic surgery. Your residency training may also include attending conferences, conducting research, gaining teaching experience, participating in journal clubs and dissecting cadavers.
Once you have completed your residency, you may earn optional board certification in plastic surgery. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) offers board certification for allopathic plastic surgeons, while the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery (AOBS) offers board certification for osteopathic plastic surgeons. If you become board certified, you must participate in continuing education and periodically renew your certification.
Step 5: Consider Completing a Fellowship in a Subspecialty
If you would like to concentrate on a subspecialty of plastic surgery, you could complete a 1-year fellowship program. Fellowships are available in a number of areas, including hand surgery, craniofacial surgery, body contouring, microvascular reconstructive surgery and aesthetic surgery. In addition to receiving clinical training in your specialty, you may also be required to complete a research project. If you are an allopathic plastic surgeon, you can earn voluntary subspecialty certification in hand surgery or plastic surgery of the head and neck from the ABPS.
What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?
If you are interested in surgery but want to follow a different route than plastic surgery, you could pursue a career as a vascular surgeon, cardiology surgeon, pediatric surgeon or brain surgeon, to name a few options. You could also pursue other careers within the medical field, such as a physician assistant or registered nurse, which will require a master's degree or bachelor's degree, respectively. If you are more interested in working with animals, you could also choose to become a veterinarian, which will require a doctoral or professional degree.