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Cosmetic Surgery vs. Plastic Surgery: Understanding the Difference

Many patients, when seeking a surgeon to perform a tummy tuck or rhinoplasty, skim over the surgeon’s qualifications. After all, if they are “board-certified,” doesn’t that mean that they are qualified to perform these procedures?
In fact, while many surgeons advertise that they are board-certified, this does not necessarily mean that they have any specific training in cosmetic procedures. To find truly qualified cosmetic surgeons, it is important to understand the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery – and the training that goes into becoming a cosmetic surgeon.
Cosmetic surgery is concerned with improving physical appearance, and treats parts of the bodies that are fully functional. It involves elective procedures. Plastic surgery, on the other hand, involves reconstructing facial and bodily defects. Since it treats parts of the body that are damaged or defective, plastic surgery is reconstructive, and often medically necessary.
Cosmetic and plastic surgeons also have different training – although there is also a lot of overlap. Cosmetic surgeons perform a residency or fellowship in another medical specialty, such as dermatology or maxillofacial surgery, and become board-certified in that field. They become qualified to practice cosmetic surgery by attending fellowship programs, workshops, seminars, and lectures. Once they have received enough training and experience, they are admitted to professional associations like the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.
Since plastic surgery is concerned with medically necessary procedures, plastic surgeons are able to take a residency or fellowship in the field of plastic surgery after medical school. Once they have been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, they can take additional training in cosmetic surgery.
Whether you choose a cosmetic surgeon a plastic surgeon, make sure that you ask about their board certifications. In many states, surgeons can promote the fact that they are “board-certified” – without mentioning that they have no board certification in either discipline. It is not illegal for surgeons who lack cosmetic surgery training to perform elective procedures like facelift or liposuction. However, many patients have suffered botched procedures by surgeons dabbling outside their disciplines, with little or no training.

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