When people talk about plastic surgery, they usually are referring to cosmetic surgery. In fact, many people think of the two as being the same thing and use both terms interchangeably. Yet the two terms have very different meanings. Plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons are not the same, although there is overlap between the two professions.
What is the Difference?
A plastic surgeon specializes in reconstructive surgery while a cosmetic surgeon specializes in aesthetic surgery.
In the case of reconstructive surgery, the plastic surgeon specializes in corrective and restorative surgical procedures that correct abnormalities that may result from an accident, birth defect, or health condition. The plastic surgeon is trained and qualified in several specialized fields that include restorative or reconstruction surgery, as well as aesthetic surgery, though often focusing more on the former than the latter.
On the other hand, aesthetic surgery is more or less a sub-specialty of plastic surgery. The cosmetic surgeon specializes in the improvement of a person’s appearance by re-shaping or enhancing the structure and tissue.
There are instances when plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery merge. Several aesthetic surgery procedures can also be considered reconstructive surgery procedures. For instance, a situation where breast reconstruction is necessary, or a rhinoplasty. The rhinoplasty might be necessary after a corrective surgery to correct a structural imperfection of the nose to improve breathing. In the case of the breast reconstruction, the surgeon might augment a breast to make it look the same as the one that had a mastectomy.
Plastic vs. Cosmetic Surgical Training
The difference between the two professionals is the training they have undergone. A plastic surgeon will undergo at least three years of rigorous training as a surgical resident, which is done after they have completed medical school and are certified by the board of plastic surgeons. Even then, the surgeon will have to undergo another training specializing in the field of plastic surgery. The training can be for 3 – 8 years based on which surgical fellowships the surgeon wishes to cover.
A cosmetic surgeon often lacks that in-depth knowledge in major surgery procedures, especially those that need major reconstruction. Often, a cosmetic surgeon may have undergone a year or two or cosmetic surgery training, with several fellowships covered through short courses over the weekends.
Certification and Recognition
Whether it is a plastic surgery or a cosmetic surgery procedure, it is important to confirm that the surgeon is certified by the appropriate medical boards. In the case of American plastic surgeons, there should be a certification by the ABPS (American Board of Plastic Surgery). Only those who have the certification and recognition of the ABPs qualify to call themselves Plastic Surgeons. Any cosmetic surgeon should have a certificate from the ABCS (American Board of Cosmetic Surgery). The ASPS and the ABCS are the only boards recognized by the ABMS (American Board of Medical Specialties).
Also, remember that while the certification may surgeon the title and privilege to practice his or her profession, it does not guarantee any particular results. This may be particularly true of cosmetic surgeons who have far less specialized training than plastic surgeons. Only choose a surgeon who has privileges to carry out cosmetic surgery procedures at a reputable hospital. This also applies to plastic surgeons though most of them often are affiliated with reputable hospitals where they have privileges to perform reconstruction surgical procedures that may or may not require aesthetic surgery.