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Which Is Better: Plastic Surgery or Cosmetic Surgery

Are you one of the people who always thought that cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery were basically just synonyms? Well, you were, simply put, wrong! While they are related, these terms are definitely not interchangeable.

So, what are the differences between plastic and cosmetic surgery?

Their goals are not the same

Cosmetic surgery

We will start with the most important difference: the goals of these surgeries.  While both of these try to improve the patient’s body,  their reasons and outcomes are very different.

a) Cosmetic Surgery – Working on your looks

Having cosmetic surgery does not come from any medical advice. It is the choice of the patient who wants to improve his/her looks. The surgery is not medical-intended because the body part receiving the surgery is functioning properly. The goal is to improve the aesthetic appeal.

To give you some examples, cosmetic surgery includes (but is not limited to): breast augmentation, liposuction, facelift,  rhinoplasty, etc.

b) Plastic Surgery – Working on regaining function and appearance and removing defects

Plastic surgery

Plastic surgery is corrective in nature. It is dedicated to repairing defects that happened because of burns, birth disorders, trauma, and disease. Therefore, if someone went to change their A cups to C, they did not have plastic surgery, they went through a cosmetic one instead.

Some examples would include breast reconstruction, hand surgery, extremity defect repair, etc.

The training is not the same

Since the goals of these two types of surgeries differ, it only makes sense that you need different training to become a board certified surgeon. Both the training and the board certification process are indeed very different for each of these examples.

a) Training Requirements from the American Board of Plastic Surgery

Training categories include:

  • Hand Surgery.
  • Reconstructive Surgery.
  • Trauma Surgery.
  • Disorders.
  • Congenital Defect Repair.
  • Cosmetic Surgery.

As you can see, only one of the six required training categories is in cosmetic surgery. Apart from that, to become a certified plastic surgeon, one is also required to perform a minimum of 150 cosmetic surgery cases to graduate.

b) Training Requirements from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery:

Training categories include:

  • Breast Surgery
  • Tummy Tuck
  • Face Surgery
  • Liposuction

In this case, all of the required training categories are dedicated solely to cosmetic surgery. And, added to that, to graduate, the future cosmetic surgeon is required to perform a minimum of 300 cosmetic surgery cases.

Program Differences:

a) Training for plastic surgeons is accomplished through a residency program (post-graduate)

To be a plastic surgeon, a physician must finish his/her general residency and another two years over that in plastic surgery. These residency programs in plastic surgery may or may not include cosmetic surgery, but do not include training for every cosmetic procedure.

b) There is no residency program for cosmetic surgeons

Cosmetic surgeons actually go through a post-residency fellowship. So, what does it actually take to become a certified cosmetic surgeon?

  • Finish college (4  years).
  • Go to medical school (4 years).
  • Get certified in 1 of 7 approved residency programs (3 to 5 years).
  • Complete the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, a fellowship that requires 300 cosmetic surgery procedures (1 to 2 years).
  • Pass both oral and written board certification exams.

During the fellowship, a surgeon will go through training for all cosmetic procedures of the face, body, and breast.

Where does the confusion come from?

a) Both work with appearances

Even if the plastic surgeon is working to repair the damage, it is undeniable that they are, sometimes, still working on the appearance of their patients. Therefore, a layman might fail to see the difference between reconstruction and elective surgery.

To a layman, having a breast enhancement surgery is not very different from going through breast reconstruction procedure.

b) Plastic surgeons becoming cosmetic surgeons

A large number of plastic surgeons chooses to complete the additional training, go through the fellowship and become certified cosmetic surgeons. They already have experience with cosmetic surgery, and the basis of reconstructive surgery makes for a good start on their path.

c) Lack of knowledge

Even after being informed that the two are indeed different,  most people still didn’t know what the difference is. Since it is not a commonly addressed subject, people simply don’t know enough about it to see the difference between the two.

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