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Plastic surgeon versus cosmetic surgeon...

25 October 2017

Plastic surgeon versus cosmetic surgeon – what’s the difference?

You are not alone if you believe that plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons are the same thing but they are most definitely not.

The term “plastic” in plastic surgery comes from the Greek word “plastikos,” which means to mold or shape. Plastic surgery includes both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery and surgeries that treat burns, the hands, the head and the face.

Reconstructive procedures are often considered “medically necessary” and involve restoring almost any body part that is considered abnormal due to trauma or an accident, mastectomy procedures (such as breast reconstruction following surgery for breast cancer) or a birth defect (an example would be repair of a cleft lip and palate).

Cosmetic surgery procedures (sometimes referred to as aesthetic surgery) are non-essential procedures which are performed to change a person’s appearance e.g. a nose job (rhinoplasty), tummy tuck (abdominoplasty) or breast augmentation.

Cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is therefore a type or a sub-specialty of plastic surgery.

Cosmetic versus. plastic: The training

Following completion of medical school, a junior doctor (known as a trainee) will spend two years in a foundation programme to gain experience in a number of specialties.  After this time, the trainee will complete two years of core surgical training before moving on to higher specialist training in their chosen speciality e.g. plastic surgery.  The whole process can take 6 to 8 years to complete. To gain the Certificate of Completion of Training (CCT), the trainee is required to pass the Intercollegiate Specialty Examination (FRCS Plast).  Upon gaining the CCT, doctors are then eligible to be placed on the GMC specialist register and are able to apply for consultant posts. Many plastic surgery trainees also complete a cosmetic fellowship following their CCT to enable them to perform cosmetic (aesthetic surgery) as well. 

This is the big difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon.

A person calling themselves a cosmetic surgeon might belong to any medical specialty and may not belong to a medical specialty at all!   

He/she could be anyone that has decided that  they want to perform cosmetic procedures and training can be anywhere from a one-year cosmetic surgery training course  to a handful of short weekend courses on topics ranging from how to perform liposuction, use  injectables  such as botox*, or place breast implants.  In other words, your local "Cosmetic Surgeon" may be a doctor (nurse or other person) who, after buying the latest and greatest laser, now calls him/herself a Cosmetic Surgeon.

If you are considering any type of aesthetic/cosmetic procedure it is important to check the education and training of the surgeon you’re considering for your procedure. You can verify the qualifications of a surgeon by checking with the General Medical Council. Further information about choosing a surgeon.

Don’t be afraid to ask the surgeon a series of questions; a reputable one will expect to be questioned.  First, ask them about their training, how long they have been on the Specialist Register and how many cosmetic procedures have they performed in a given year. Ask them about their complication rate, beware of any red flags (link up to danger signs on the Planning your surgery) and, most importantly, ask to see before/after photos of previous patients.




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