Plastic Surgeon Vs Orthopedic Surgeon

If you are interested in a career as a surgeon you may want to pick an area to specialize in. Two surgical subfields are plastic surgery and orthopedic surgery. This article explores the differences between these surgical specializations.

Comparing Plastic Surgeons to Orthopedic Surgeons

Surgeons share comparable training requirements and some of the same general duties. The type of surgery they perform and other treatments they may use can vary based on their field of specialty. Plastic surgeons are involved in cosmetic or reconstructive procedures, while orthopedic surgeons treat patients with musculoskeletal issues such as spinal deformities or sprains.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Plastic Surgeons Medical Degree $258,541 20% (for surgeons)
Orthopedic Surgeons Medical Degree $359,800 20% (for surgeons)

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

Responsibilities of Plastic Surgeons vs. Orthopedic Surgeons

Plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons are both highly trained medical professionals who treat patients who are referred to them and evaluate their medical condition. Plastic surgeons typically see patients after they've experienced trauma, such as burns, or prolonged medical care, such as surgery to remove a tumor. Plastic surgeons should be sensitive to their patients' emotional state while discussing treatment options. Some orthopedic surgeons may specialize in trauma, and they work in emergency rooms where they treat people who've been injured in accidents. While it may be possible to begin preparing patients for the recovery process before a procedure if they've been referred by another medical professional, those who've received abrupt treatment for an injury may need to be educated about their condition and prognosis after treatment. Orthopedic surgeons often refer their patients to physical therapists as part of their recovery and can expect to monitor patients for a long period of time, since the recovery process is slow.

Plastic Surgeons

Plastic surgery may be thought of as a superficial procedure done to improve one's appearance, but plastic surgeons also perform reconstructive work after a person has experienced an illness or injury that's affected their appearance. They not only focus on the patient's physical issues, but they provide emotional support as well. They treat patients with scars, burns or disfiguration from cancer. Once they have earned a medical degree they must complete any residency and fellowship requirements and earn a medical license and certification. Their work can involve long hours of standing while in surgery, and they need to be physically able to spend long periods of time on their feet. Since they must also work with a surgical team they need to be able to communicate clearly and provide direction to the medical professionals they work with.

Job responsibilities of a plastic surgeon include:

  • Filling on-call shifts as required
  • Consulting with patients
  • Reviewing treatment options
  • Maintaining patient records
  • Monitoring a patient's progress after treatment

Orthopedic Surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in providing medical care for people with medical issues affecting their musculoskeletal system; some may specialize in treating spinal problems while others may concentrate on replacing joints or treating trauma patients. Procedures they may perform include inserting pins, setting broken bones or amputating limbs. They monitor patients after treatment to ensure that they are recovering, and they consult with other professionals involved in their patient's treatment, such as physical therapists. Orthopedic surgeons must complete medical school, earn a medical license and then complete fellowship or residency requirements in orthopedic surgery. They should also earn their board certification to specialize in this field. As surgeons, most of these professionals may work in medical offices or hospitals.

Job responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon include:

  • Reading medical files
  • Performing patient examinations
  • Prescribing braces or other types of treatment
  • Assessing patient progress
  • Updating medical files

Related Careers

Another career option for those considering becoming a plastic surgeon is to become a dermatologist, which involves helping people who want to improve their appearance or health by treating skin issues. Those considering a future as an orthopedic surgeon may also be interested in podiatry, since podiatrists treat people with medical issues with their feet.

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