Plastic Surgeon: Career Profile and Educational Requirements

Plastic surgery may be used not only to enhance a person's looks, but also to restore one's appearance following an accident or a bout with cancer or another disease. Plastic surgeons may also operate on those who have inborn problems, like cleft lips. These surgeons must complete as much as a decade or more of education and training in order to enter this field.

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Career Profile

Plastic surgeons shape and mold regions of the body like the ears, face, trunk, hands and other extremities. They also repair congenital problems, such as malformed bone structure in hands or feet. Cosmetic surgery reshapes normal body parts for aesthetic reasons, while reconstructive surgery repairs or replaces body parts damaged by accidents, illness or malformation.

Skills Required

Plastic surgeons must be driven, focused individuals who are able to sustain many years of schooling and long work hours. They are licensed medical doctors trained in patient interactions, trauma care and basic surgery techniques, as well as specialized areas, such as tissue transfer, body contouring and laser surgery.

Salary and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that all physicians and surgeons will have a 24% job growth in the years 2010-2020. The BLS does not distinguish plastic surgeons from other types of surgeons, and these workers earned over $230,540 in mean annual wages in 2012.

Educational Requirements

The path to becoming a plastic surgeon is a long and demanding one. Students must complete many levels of training and education, beginning with obtaining a bachelor's degree in a pre-medical major, such as biology or chemistry. They then must enter medical school.

Medical School

After completing a bachelor's degree program, future plastic surgeons must earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) from an accredited medical school. A doctor of medicine program includes four years of education and training. During the first two years, students split their time between classroom study and laboratory work. The final two years place students in hospitals and health clinics, where they obtain clinical experience.

Medical Residency

After medical school, plastic surgeons complete 5-6 years of residency training, during which they split their years between general surgery and plastic surgery. Typically, the first three years of surgery training is in general surgery and the final 2-3 years are in plastic surgery. Upon completion of a medical residency, students must pass one or more examinations to legally work as a surgeon.

Fellowship Training

Following a residency, plastic surgeons may choose to pursue a fellowship, which can allow them to specialize in a subfield of plastic surgery, like hand, craniofacial or eyelid surgery, hair replacement or breast reconstruction. While most plastic surgeons choose a specialty, all are trained in congenital problems of the head, neck and trunk, burn management, fluid replacement, breast surgery and other basic skills. Many plastic surgeons pursue certification through the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

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