The Difference Between a Plastic Surgeon and a Cosmetic Surgeon

The term “plastic surgeon” and “cosmetic surgeon” are frequent sources of confusion amongst plastic surgery patients. These terms are often used interchangeably, but actually have significant differences in their meanings.

Plastic surgeons have undergone residency training in plastic surgery. This involves upwards of 7 to 8 years of training in this area of endeavor. The vast majority have undergone testing to obtain board certification in this specialty as well. 

Cosmetic surgeons are individuals who perform cosmetic surgery. This may include plastic surgeons along with a large number of physicians from varied specialties including dermatology, otolaryngology, ophthalmology, oral surgery, and gynecology. In our community, we even have family physicians and emergency room physicians who now call themselves cosmetic surgeons. In this situation, these physicians don’t even have basic surgery training, let alone specialty surgery training.

The bar is relatively high for a physician to use the term plastic surgeon. In contrast, anyone who performs or wants to perform cosmetic surgery can call themselves a cosmetic surgeon. Unfortunately, there are many practitioners with minimal training and experience performing these procedures with very little regulation. It’s not uncommon to see aggressive advertisements that make claims that just can’t be substantiated. In this environment it’s truly buyer beware and for this reason board certification is extremely important.

Even the issue of board certification can be confusing because not all boards are created equal. It’s important that the board be certified by the American Board of Medical Specialist. This organization ensures that the board is reputable. These boards require residency training, testing, and certification. 

It’s important that your surgeon be board certified by a specialty that’s dedicated to cosmetic surgery. Although the vast majority of “cosmetic surgeons” are board certified, in many cases these boards don’t traditionally have anything to do with aesthetic surgery.

Many factors should be considered when choosing a surgeon. These include training, experience, reputation, and certification to name a few. The selection of your surgeon is the most important decision you will make when considering aesthetic surgery, so make it carefully.