How to Become a Plastic Surgeon: Schooling, Requirements & Salary

Jan 06, 2021

Becoming a Plastic Surgeon

Plastic surgeons work to improve the cosmetic aspects of the human body. To acquire the skills to be able to do this takes around ten years and involves the completion of a lot of educational and training requirements. Here are some typical steps in order to become a plastic surgeon:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree in a related field
  2. Apply for medical school
  3. Graduate from medical school
  4. Complete a residency program
  5. Complete a fellowship program
  6. Apply for plastic surgeon positions

Plastic Surgery Career

Job Description

Plastic surgeons are medical doctors who perform surgeries to reconstruct damaged or malformed features and/or alter and shape various parts of the human body such as the face, ears, torso and hands. For example, if a person wants to change the profile of their nose, or needs liposuction, they will seek the help of a plastic surgeon. In this instance, the plastic surgeon may be known more specifically as a cosmetic surgeon since any potential surgery will be performed for aesthetic purposes.

In terms of pay and job outlook, according to, the median salary for reconstructive plastic surgeons in the U.S., as of 2020, is $397,393. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that job growth for all surgeons between 2019 and 2029 will be -2%.

Job Skills

Plastic surgeons must be focused and be in good physical condition as they sometimes have to remain standing for many hours at a time when performing complex operations. Surgeons must also have good hand-eye condition and a steady hand with strong attention to detail. It is also important to possess strong communication skills since surgeons need to work in surgical teams and demonstrate empathy with their patients. Finally, surgeons need to be dedicated as the profession demands constant continuing education in addition to the years of initial educational preparation.

Education Bachelor's degree and Doctor of Medicine (M.D.)
Training Requirements Residency and fellowship
Licensure and Certification United States Medical Licensing Examinations required for licensure in all states; board certification in plastic surgery available
Job Growth (2019-2029)* -2% for all surgeons
Median Annual Salary (2020)** $397,393 for surgeons - plastic reconstructive

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **

Plastic Surgeon Education Requirements and Training

Plastic Surgeon Schooling

The education to become a plastic surgeon begins with a four-year bachelor's degree program which will serve as preparation for medical school. There is no specific plastic surgeon degree, but ideal bachelor's degree programs will include a number of biology courses and perhaps classes in chemistry and physics. Some schools even offer pre-med programs which more specifically help to prepare students for the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) which must be taken as part of an application to medical school.

Once aspiring plastic surgeons have completed a bachelor's degree, they must then earn a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) qualification from an accredited medical school. Medical school programs typically last four years with the first two years devoted to classroom study and the final two years set aside for placement in a hospital or similar medical facility to acquire hands-on clinical experience. Steps one and two of the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLE) are taken at medical school.

Training for Plastic Surgeons

On completion of medical school, the training aspect of a budding plastic surgeon's preparation intensifies with the participation in 5-6 years of residency training. This stage of training requires surgeons to gain clinical experience in general surgery and then plastic surgery. At the end of the residency, students need to pass one or more examinations (usually just step three of the USMLE) to enable them to legally practice as a surgeon.

After a residency program, some plastic surgeons may decide to undertake a fellowship where they specialize in a particular field of plastic surgery such as breast reconstruction or craniofacial surgery. While it is common for plastic surgeons to pursue a specialty, they will all have received training in breast surgery, upper body congenital issues and burn management. Many plastic surgeons will also obtain certification with the American Board of Plastic Surgery.

So, all in all, becoming an established plastic surgeon can require in excess of 10 years of education and training. This lengthy preparation is necessary given the high skill level and risks associated with the job.

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