Do you know the difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery? One common myth in medicine may be that cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons are the same thing. In reality, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are done for two different reasons. Unfortunately, not all doctors who perform “cosmetic surgery” are suitable to do so and patients should be aware of the qualifications needed to perform either.
Reconstructive plastic surgery
Plastic surgeries are done to correct or restore areas of the body which are not functioning properly or are in need of reconstruction. This may include correction of abnormalities caused by birth defects, trauma or disease. Common examples may include breast cancer reconstruction, burn repair surgery, skin cancer reconstruction of the face, scar revision, and cleft palate repair.
Cosmetic surgeries are considered “elective.” Cosmetic surgical procedures are focused on enhancing or improving one’s appearance. This may mean that surgery or treatments are done to improve symmetry or proportion, or to simply make a person look “better.” Common procedures may include breast enhancements (augmentations and lifts), body and facial contouring (brow lifts, face lifts, tummy tucks, and liposuction) and less-invasive treatments like Botox, facial fillers and resurfacing.
Plastic surgery is one of the 24 approved specialty areas listed by the American Board of Medical Specialties. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) is the only certification organization that is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. In order to become certified by the ABPS, doctors must complete at least 6 years of residency training beyond medical school. This is accomplished by completion of either:
- a 6-year residency in an accredited plastic surgery program
- a 3-year accredited general surgery residency, followed by a 3-year accredited plastic surgery residency.
Well-qualified cosmetic surgeons are true, ABPS board-certified plastic surgeons who have completed additional, fellowship training for cosmetic procedures.
ABPS certification requires the training listed above and requires that the physician complete and pass a rigorous, written and oral examination by his peers. At least every 10 years, he must also complete continuing education with rigorous written testing, to stay current with new trends.
An ABPS-certified plastic surgeon who performs cosmetic surgery will have completed even more training. This is generally performed as a post-residency fellowship in the sub-specialty cosmetic surgery area which may take several years to complete.
In the past, patients have been harmed by unscrupulous physicians who started “cosmetic surgery” clinics with no corresponding training. Not only have these patients received substandard care, they may have been placed in jeopardy and some cases of death have even been reported because of lack of training and improper practices.
A physician advertising himself as a “plastic surgeon” must be listed by the American Board of Medical Specialties as certified through the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). Unfortunately for many patients, any licensed doctor may perform “cosmetic surgery” procedures for which he is not really qualified. In addition, there are a number of agencies who claim to offer “board certification,” some of which sound similar to the American Board of Plastic Surgery but are not the same at all.
In a few, rare, cases certain procedures may be completed by physicians who are certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties in other areas. Examples may include ophthalmology, dermatology, and otolaryngology, but these physicians must be certified in their specialty, should have proven skills with clearly demonstrated surgical expertise in the specific area and should only perform procedures for that area. For most patients, there simply is no substitute for ABPS certification.
Patients needing plastic surgery for correction or reconstruction and those wanting cosmetic surgery to enhance the appearance should not only seek ABPS-certified plastic surgeons but should also ensure that their surgeon is experienced in those specific procedures as a cosmetic surgeon. Patients can get more information about theAmerican Board of Medical Specialties on their website which also offers a free certification verification tool at CertificationMatters.org.