How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

Plastic surgeons perform procedures to improve or repair the appearance or function of many different parts of the body, either at the request of the patient, or as a part of the therapy to recover after illness or trauma or to treat a congenital defect and to become a plastic surgeon requires eight years of post-secondary education and a five year residency.

Education

All plastic surgeons need to complete an undergraduate degree in any field, usually in the sciences, as well as graduate from an accredited medical school program and a list of accredited medical schools is available on the website of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Once graduated from medical school, a potential plastic surgeon will complete a three to five year residency in orthopedics, otolaryngology (ears, nose and throat), or general surgery and a two year plastic surgery residency. Some plastic surgeons may also opt to complete a five year residency in plastic surgery. The five year residency is acceptable for board certification for plastic surgeons.

License

Since plastic surgeons are also physicians, they must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) and graduate from an accredited medical school. A plastic surgeon may also decide to become board certified by The American Board of Plastic Surgery, which requires graduation from an accredited medical school, as well as five years as a resident surgeon at an accredited program. Patients who are looking for a plastic surgeon can search on The American Board of Plastic Surgery website to find a board certified surgeon, an incentive for a plastic surgeon to become board certified.

Tips and Advice

If you are currently in high school, you will need to complete courses in biology, chemistry and mathematics, as well as any other prerequisites for admission to the college of your choice. Once in college, many students complete an undergraduate degree in the sciences, but potential plastic surgeons, in addition to their courses in anatomy and physiology, should also explore courses in art and design. It is also helpful to complete courses in psychology since many plastic surgeons will screen their patients for any psychological issues prior to pursuing plastic surgery.

While in school, pursue volunteer or paid positions in health care. There are many opportunities to volunteer in health care settings, but there are also opportunities to volunteer in non-profits that assist clients receiving treatments for diseases that affect physical appearance, such as cancer. If you plan to work with children or to perform international development work, there are also volunteer opportunities or study abroad opportunities that you can explore while an undergraduate. You can use these experiences when applying to medical school, on your personal statement or during the interview.

Specialization

Plastic surgeons deal with many different types of patients and not all of their practices are about vanity and the attainment of physical beauty. Many plastic surgeons help patients in their recovery after cancer treatment, such as performing breast reconstructions after mastectomies. Some work to correct congenital defects, such as cleft palates. There are opportunities in international work, especially in countries where certain physical deformities can create social inequities, as well as work in military and veteran hospitals and health services.