What is a Plastic Surgeon?

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on July 06, 2021

Plastic surgeons are focused on reconstructive procedures. They can see patients who have conditions like birth disorders, injuries, illnesses, or burns.

Many plastic surgeons choose to become cosmetic surgeons and do procedures to change a patient’s appearance or aesthetic. But not all plastic surgeons are also cosmetic surgeons. 

Plastic surgery is one of the most competitive routes in the medical field. The training can take more than a decade. After medical school or osteopathic medical school,, prospective plastic surgeons can take one of two paths:

  • A 6-year residency program that combines general surgery and plastic surgery 
  • A 5-year surgery residency and then a 3-year plastic surgery residency

Candidates then take an exam to practice plastic surgery in their state.

They can continue their education with a 1- or 2-year fellowship in areas like: 

  • Breasts. Plastic surgeons who specialize in breast surgeries can do them to change appearance, to reduce the size of the breasts, or rebuild them after surgery to treat a tumor.
  • Aesthetics. This is what most people think of when they think of plastic surgeries. They do surgery to change a person’s appearance. 
  • Craniofacial surgery. The craniofacial subspecialty is focused on the skull, face, ears, nose, and parts of the mouth. These surgeons often work on cleft palates , facial deformities, or missing noses or ears. 
  • General reconstructive surgery. These surgeons often work on wound healing, scar reparation, and scar revisions. 
  • Hands. Hand specialists treat injuries or ongoing conditions on the hand. 
  • Scars or burns. These specialists often repair burns or scars. 

Plastic surgeons can repair or reconstruct any part of the body except the central nervous system. Some of the procedures they do are: 

  • Breast reconstruction
  • Burn repair
  • Lower extremity reconstruction
  • Hand surgery
  • Scar revision
  • Migraine relief
  • Jaw straightening
  • Corrective surgeries for genetic problems

Plastic surgeons see patients on a daily basis to discuss and diagnose issues. They perform any necessary operations and monitor their patients afterward. They usually work in clinics, offices, or hospitals. 

You may need to see a plastic surgeon about a physical problem. Your primary care physician will probably refer you to them.

If you want to change something about the way you look, see a cosmetic surgeon. Any licensed physician is legally allowed to do cosmetic surgery. Make sure you find one who has the right training and licensing.

Show Sources


American Board of Cosmetic Surgery: “Cosmetic Surgery VS Plastic Surgery.”

American College of Surgeons: “Plastic Surgery.”

American Society of Plastic Surgeons: “Reconstructive Procedures.”

UCLA Health: “Surgical Specialties.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Overview of Plastic Surgery.”

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