Many people mistakenly believe that board certified plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons are the same – when in fact there are major differences between the two. The most important difference is the amount of training that these physicians undergo.
In order to become a board certified plastic surgeon, a doctor must undergo six to eight years of specialized training after completing medical school. This includes serving as a surgical resident for at least three years, during which they receive rigorous training in general, orthopedic or ear, nose & throat surgery. Following this basic surgical training, they must undergo two to three years of focused plastic surgery training in a recognized plastic surgery residency program. Even after completing all of this extensive training, the surgeon must be in practice for at least two years before he or she is allowed to take a written exam in plastic surgery. Upon passing this exam, the surgeon must then pass an oral exam before surgeons who are members of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. After completing all of these exacting steps and extensive training, the physician finally earns the designation of board certified plastic surgeon. It’s also important to note that the American Board of Plastic Surgery is the only board in the United States that is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to certify physicians in the specialty of plastic surgery. Only ABPS diplomates can call themselves plastic surgeons.
By comparison, a cosmetic surgeon not only lacks specialized training in plastic surgery – they can actually belong to any medical specialty, from family practitioners to dermatologists, ophthalmologists and even dentists. Unfortunately, some cosmetic surgeons receive their training through weekend seminars and workshops that teach procedures such as breast augmentation and liposuction. While some cosmetic surgeons undergo further training (such as a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship), their training does not rise to anywhere near the level of a board certified plastic surgeon. It should also be noted that some cosmetic surgeons may claim to be board certified – but these certifications come from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
Because there is such a vast difference in the amount of medical training received by board certified plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons, it is crucial that patients verify the credentials of their physician before undergoing any surgical procedure. A physician’s credentials include diplomas or other documents that confirm the completion of medical school, various types of residencies, specialty board certificates and more. In addition to reviewing these documents, you can also verify any physician’s credentials by contacting your state medical board. Also keep in mind that many accomplished board certified plastic surgeons are members of prestigious medical organizations such as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.
If you are considering undergoing any type of plastic surgery or cosmetic procedure, we strongly advise you to choose a physician who is a board certified plastic surgeon. It’s the best way to avoid risks while receiving the best possible results from your surgery.