Becoming a Plastic Surgeon Assistant: Education Requirements & Training

Plastic surgeon assistants are licensed professionals who examine, diagnose, and treat cosmetic surgery patients under the supervision of a licensed plastic surgeon. Find out more about the education requirements and training needed for this career. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

A plastic surgeon assistant, also known as a plastic surgery physician assistant, works with patients who may need cosmetic or reconstructive surgery. They can diagnose patients, discuss surgical options, and develop treatment plans under the direction of a supervising plastic surgeon. See the table below for more info on this career.

Required Degree Master's degree
Education Field of Study Physician assistant
Key Skills Communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, compassion, ability to work under pressure
Certification/Licensure Licensure required by all states
Job Growth (2016-2026) 37% (for all physician assistants)*
Median Salary (2019) $100,057 (for surgery physician assistants)**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com

What Does a Plastic Surgery Physician Assistant Do?

Plastic surgery physician assistants work closely under the supervision of a practicing plastic surgeon. In the operating room, they assist plastic surgeons by providing the surgical tools, performing suturing, and contributing their own expertise. They may perform minor surgical procedures on their own. After the operation, these PAs may consult with the surgeon on a patient's progress, perform wound checks, and write orders. They can also take medical histories, perform exams, provide surgical consultations, and develop treatment plans for patients.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Physician Assistant?

A master's degree from an accredited physician assistant program is required to become a plastic surgery physician assistant. These programs are highly competitive, and the average student has a bachelor's degree plus several years of healthcare experience before applying to a program. Students are also expected to have prior coursework in anatomy, physiology, biology, and organic chemistry.

The typical physician assistant program requires 2-3 years to complete. During the program, students take advanced courses in microbiology, anatomy, pharmacology, pathophysiology, and clinical laboratory science. They must also complete around 2,000 hours of clinical rotations in primary care, emergency medicine, and other areas.

Is Additional Training Needed?

Physician assistants interested in specializing in plastic surgery should look for programs that have a surgical or plastic surgery focus, so they can gain the skills they need in this field. Although not required, physician assistants can complete a plastic surgery residency after graduation to gain additional training. The residency program will provide training in surgical tools and operative procedures. Other physician assistants may choose to increase their skills through on-the-job training.

Is a License Required?

All plastic surgery physician assistants must have a state license before they can practice medicine. To become licensed, a plastic surgery physician assistant must pass the Physician Assistant National Certifying Exam (PANCE), which is administered by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA). To keep the certification and license current, plastic surgery physician assistants must complete 100 hours of continuing education every two years and pass the recertification exam every 10 years.

Where Do Plastic Surgery Physician Assistants Practice?

Plastic surgery physician assistants may practice in hospitals, surgical centers, and office-based operating rooms; where they practice generally depends on their subspecialty, such as trauma, cosmetic surgery, reconstruction, or burn management. Plastic surgery physician assistants who focus on cosmetic surgery may work in private offices that can provide more confidentiality for celebrity patients.

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