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Difference Between Plastic Surgeon & Cosmetic Surgeon

The work that plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons do is superficially similar, but they work with patients who have distinctly different needs. Their focus and examples of the types of procedures they perform are explored further here.

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Comparing Plastic Surgeons to Cosmetic Surgeons

Plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons work in the same surgical subfield. Their focus is on performing surgery related to a person's appearance. The distinction is that plastic surgeons may perform procedures to repair damage from illness or injury, while cosmetic surgeons focus on elective surgeries people choose to have to alter how they look. More details about their similarities and differences are outlined below.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017) Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Plastic Surgeons Doctor of Medicine, residency $370,329 (for all plastic reconstructive surgeons)* 20% (for all physicians and surgeons)
Cosmetic Surgeons Doctor of Medicine, residency $258,541 (for all plastic surgeons)** 20% (for all physicians and surgeons)

Sources: *Salary.com, **PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Responsibilities of Plastic Surgeons vs. Cosmetic Surgeons

Plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons both counsel patients on their needs and lead a team of medical professionals to carry out the patient's medical concern. They must explain to patients how to care for themselves after the surgery as well. The primary difference between these two physicians is the scope of surgery and the needs of the patient. Plastic surgeons focus on the correction of a dysfunction due to disease, birth defect or illness. The specialty field of cosmetic surgery concentrates on enhancing a person's bodily features for mostly aesthetic purposes.

Plastic Surgeons

Plastic surgeons work with patients recovering from physical issues stemming from trauma to the body. Sometimes called reconstructive plastic surgeons, their focus is on helping to restore a person's physical appearance or to alter it. To be a surgeon it's necessary to have a medical degree, a medical license and board certification. Completing a general surgery and plastic surgery residency is necessary. It's common for plastic surgeons to work in medical clinics or hospitals, and they need physical endurance so that they can work for prolonged periods of time standing and bending over. It also helps if they're compassionate, since their patients may be coping with disfiguration due to other surgical procedures or injuries that they've suffered, such as scars.

Job responsibilities of a plastic surgeon include:

  • Performing patient assessments
  • Determining the best way to address the patient's needs
  • Explaining treatment options to patients
  • Maintaining medical records

Cosmetic Surgeons

Cosmetic surgeons work with patients who have specific concerns with their appearance and want to change how they look. They may perform procedures such as tummy tucks, chemical peels, breast reductions or facelifts. They normally work in medical offices, clinics or hospitals, and they must have a medical degree and license. In order to specialize in cosmetic surgery, they may also be required to be board certified and to fulfill any residency or fellowship requirements for this profession. Since they are working with people who are already concerned about how they look, good communication skills are very important so that they can explain procedures effectively without making patients more sensitive about their appearance.

Job responsibilities of a cosmetic surgeon include:

  • Consulting with patients
  • Discussing the patient's concerns and goals
  • Assessing the patient
  • Explaining surgical procedures and treatment options
  • Monitoring the patients' progress after surgery

Related Careers

Since the work that plastic and cosmetic surgeons do is so similar, those interested in either career may also be interested in some of the same career alternatives. One option is to become an anesthesiologist, because these medical doctors specialize in providing care to patients during surgery. Another alternative for practicing physicians is to become a medical director since both options require a medical degree, extensive management experience and superb communication skills.

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