Many people tend to think that cosmetic and plastic surgeries are one and the same thing. Here’s why, many plastic surgeons specialize in performing cosmetic surgery, so the terms cosmetic and plastic are often used interchangeably. However, it’s still not technically correct to say that plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are the same.

Qualifications – plastic vs cosmetic surgeons

Plastic surgeons are typically certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery while cosmetic surgeons may be certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery. Both boards recognize surgeons who have completed extensive training to perform complex plastic surgery procedures. Some people may believe that plastic surgeons are more qualified and trained than cosmetic surgeons.

The difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon is not in the services that they offer, but in the medical qualifications that they must have to perform their work.

To become board-certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a surgeon must complete a minimum of six years of surgical training, and at least half of that time must be spent learning how to perform plastic and reconstructive surgery. They must also complete a residency and a fellowship that specializes in cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgeons are typically able to perform all types of plastic and reconstructive surgery. Only a small fraction of plastic surgeons are board-certified in plastic surgery. Cosmetic surgeons may be able to perform diverse aesthetic procedures without any additional training.

Types of plastic surgery

There are two main types of plastic surgery:

Reconstructive plastic surgery corrects problems caused by infection, tumors, disease, congenital abnormalities, or trauma.

A good example of reconstructive plastic surgery is having your breasts rebuilt after a mastectomy. This type of procedure is performed by a board-certified plastic surgeon.

Reconstructive plastic surgery is usually covered by health insurance plans, whereas cosmetic plastic surgery is elective, and usually is not covered by any medical insurance plans.

Cosmetic surgery – on the other hand – is focused on improving or changing the appearance of a patient’s body.

Breast augmentation (reshaping the breasts to improve size or volume) is a good example of cosmetic surgery. This type of surgery may either be performed by a plastic surgeon or a cosmetic surgeon.

Certified Boards and Membership Organizations

The main bodies that certify or recognize plastic surgeons and cosmetic surgeons include the following:

  • The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) – this independent body, which certifies plastic surgeons, is the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties.
  • American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) – this is an independent body that accredits practitioners in cosmetic surgery. The ABCS sets the highest standards for training and ethical practice in plastic surgery.
  • The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) – this is the largest specialty organization in plastic surgery that has been in existence since 1931 and represents about 93 percent of all board-certified plastic surgeons in the US. The body’s mission is to promote the highest standards of physician practice, research, training, and ethics in plastic surgery.

What to look for in a plastic surgeon or cosmetic surgeon

Many plastic surgeons specialize in both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. This includes common aesthetic procedures such as facial cosmetic surgery, body sculpting, and skin rejuvenation. Cosmetic surgeons particularly focus on aesthetic procedures. When looking for a surgeon to work with, it is important you consider the following:

  • Board certification in their area of specialization – make sure that the surgeon you intend to work with is accredited by either the ABPS or the ABCS. Membership with the ASPS would be an added advantage.
  • Experience in the specific procedure that you are interested in – you want to work with a plastic surgeon who has performed countless procedures of the type that you are interested in. This implies that they have a lot of experience and have handled patients with diverse needs.
  • Location – many patients prefer the convenience of having their plastic surgery performed close to home in their town (or at least within the state). This can eliminate the need for added costs of traveling to outside states and sometimes even outside the country. The important thing is that you find a highly seasoned and experienced surgeon to do your surgery.