The Truth About Plastic Surgeons and Cosmetic Surgeons: What You Need to Know

As an expert in the field of plastic surgery, I have seen firsthand the consequences of choosing an unqualified professional to perform a cosmetic procedure. Poor plastic surgery results or “plastic surgery failures” are often the result of a cosmetic surgeon who lacks proper training and qualifications. This is why it is crucial for patients to understand the difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon. Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty that focuses on reconstructing facial and body defects caused by congenital disorders, injuries, burns, and diseases. Its main goal is to correct dysfunctional areas of the body, making it a reconstructive procedure by definition.

On the other hand, cosmetic surgery is solely focused on enhancing one's appearance. While many plastic surgeons also perform cosmetic procedures, their training and qualifications are rooted in reconstructive plastic surgery. In fact, the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons changed its name to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons in 1999 to emphasize that plastic and reconstructive surgeons are one and the same. To become a certified cosmetic surgeon, one must complete a 1-year fellowship program certified by the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. During this fellowship, surgeons receive extensive training in all types of cosmetic procedures, including non-surgical treatments, and must perform a minimum of 300 individual procedures. This fellowship is in addition to completing a 3- to 5-year residency program in a related discipline. The main difference between a true plastic surgeon and someone who refers to themselves as a cosmetic surgeon is certification.

A plastic surgeon must be certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), while other doctors may call themselves cosmetic surgeons without specific training in cosmetic surgery. This means that only a surgeon who has met the rigorous guidelines set by the ABPS can legitimately refer to themselves as a certified plastic surgeon. In Canada, certification from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCSC) is required for a doctor to perform elective aesthetic procedures. This means that doctors from various medical fields, including plastic surgeons, may perform cosmetic procedures. However, while a cosmetic surgeon focuses solely on aesthetics, a plastic surgeon takes into consideration how the patient's anatomy affects their overall health and well-being. For example, cosmetic rhinoplasty, a highly sought-after procedure, shares similarities with functional rhinoplasty, which is essential in the training of plastic surgeons.

While some plastic surgeons may choose to specialize in cosmetic surgery after residency, no additional training is required to become board certified. This means that their training can range from a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship to a few short weekend courses on specific procedures. When it comes to choosing a doctor for a cosmetic procedure, patients often face the decision between a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon. While many plastic surgeons focus their practice on cosmetic procedures, the terms are often used interchangeably. However, it is important to understand that plastic surgery is a surgical specialty dedicated to reconstructing anatomy for medical or aesthetic purposes. There are two critical factors that differentiate a plastic surgeon from a cosmetic surgeon: training and experience.

To find the most qualified doctor for a specific cosmetic procedure, it is essential to compare the training, experience, and proven competence of general physicians (residency and post-residency) with respect to that specific procedure. If a doctor is not certified by the ABPS as a plastic surgeon, they may not have proper training in plastic surgery. While plastic surgery residency programs may include some cosmetic surgery training, they do not cover all types of cosmetic procedures.