Q. How does cosmetic surgery differ from plastic surgery?

A. Though both procedures aim at improving the body of a patient, they have different guiding principles. Cosmetic surgery focuses on enhancing a patient’s appearance by means of surgery and medical techniques. It can be done on any area of the neck, head and body. Since treated areas have normal functions but lack aesthetic appeal, this procedure is optional.

Plastic surgery focuses on the reconstruction of defects on the face and body caused by burns, birth disorders, disease and trauma. This procedure, which is reconstructive in nature, aims to correct dysfunctional body parts.

Q. If cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are two different specialties, why are they identified as one?

A. It is important to keep in mind that the “cosmetic surgery” and “plastic surgery” terms are not interchangeable. Getting confused about these terms has brought about the misunderstanding about these two different specialties. Cosmetic surgery is known as the “surgery of appearance”. This elective procedure focuses on aesthetics.

Q. What is the difference between the education of a cosmetic surgeon and a plastic surgeon?

A. Both procedures have different goals and results so the cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons go through different kinds of training.

Cosmetic surgery does not entail any residency programs. For this reason, physicians that practice it have educational backgrounds such as going through medical school, fellowship and/or residency program possibly specializing in surgery, then obtaining board certification in a particular specialty plus post-residency training. They can do this by means of a fellowship program in this field and by means of lectures, seminars and workshops. Physicians that have a lot of experience in this field are certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (or ABCS) that recognizes a strict set of standards to guarantee expertise and proficiency.

Plastic surgeons go through a path similar to most cosmetic surgeons. On the other hand, after graduating from medical school, they become a resident and/or fellow in plastic surgery. Thereafter, they may get certification from the American Board of Plastic Surgery. A plastic surgeon may or may not choose to get more training in cosmetic surgery. If they decide on it, they can gain more experience in the field by means of a fellowship training program, lectures, seminars and workshops then get certification from the ABCS upon completion of the requirements.

Having a board certification is very crucial when it comes to determining a surgeon’s credentials. The abovementioned certifying boards have very different requirements and consider the education and experience of a physician in different fields. Therefore, it is important for the public and healthcare professionals to recognize the differences. This way, patients can make the right decision in choosing a cosmetic or plastic surgeon to perform a particular procedure. The mission of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery is to further develop the specialty and quality patient care centering on education and patient safety.