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Plastic Surgery vs. Cosmetic Surgery: What’s the Difference?

Understanding the Difference Between Plastic Surgery vs. Cosmetic Surgery

The terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are often used interchangeably, but they aren’t synonymous. As experts in plastic surgery, we wanted to give you a closer look at plastic surgery vs. cosmetic surgery.

Q. What is the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery?
A. Cosmetic surgery is a unique discipline of medicine focused on enhancing appearance through surgical and medical techniques. Cosmetic surgery can be performed on all areas of the head, neck, and body. This surgery is considered to be elective and is therefore rarely covered by health insurance. Examples of cosmetic surgery include face lifts, breast augmentation, and abdominoplasties (tummy tucks).

Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty dedicated to the correction and reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease. Because this type of surgery is used to restore the functioning of a body part or is deemed medically necessary, it’s often covered by health insurance. Examples include cleft lip and palate repair, breast reconstruction following a lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast cancer, and reconstructive surgery after burn injuries.

Q. How are cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery similar?
A. In reality, there is often significant overlap between each type of surgery since they share many of the same underlying surgical principles. No matter the type of surgery that is being performed, the end goal should always include maximizing the cosmetic result as much as possible. An example of this is breast reconstruction after mastectomy. Though the procedure is considered medically necessary, it has an aesthetic component as well. Plastic surgeons seek to make the new breast match the other one and make it as natural looking as possible.

Q. What is the training of a plastic surgeon vs. that of a cosmetic surgeon?
A.Cosmetic surgeons have backgrounds that include medical school and a residency or a fellowship program in a surgical specialty. This is usually followed by board-certification in that specialty, and post-residency training in cosmetic surgery. This can be done through a cosmetic surgery fellowship program, as well as through workshops, seminars, and lectures. Physicians with significant experience in cosmetic surgery become certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS).

The training of a plastic surgeon is much more rigorous. A plastic surgeon must have a three-year residence, then three years of training in plastic surgery. It can take as long as eight years for a plastic surgeon to complete his or her training and become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS). At this point, additional training in cosmetic surgery is optional. If they choose, they may take steps to gain experience in cosmetic surgery and then also become certified by the ABCS.

Q. What does it mean to be board-certified?
A. Board-certification is a voluntary credential. Although it is not required to practice surgery, you should know that those surgeons who are board-certified have chosen to pursue additional education and training beyond their medical school training and residency program.

One of the most important questions you can ask your physician during your initial consultation is “are you board-certified?” There are a lot of doctors out there who claim to be plastic surgeons, but if they can’t prove they are board-certified then look elsewhere. We recommend finding a board-certified plastic surgeon like Dr. Fodero. An ABPS certification is recognized as the “gold standard” in physician certification.

Q. Plastic surgeon vs. cosmetic surgeon: Which do I choose?
A. Ultimately, the doctor you choose to perform your surgery is a personal decision. You have to be able to trust him or her 100%. Generally speaking, we recommend finding an experienced plastic surgeon like Dr. Fodero who has undergone more rigorous training than a cosmetic surgeon. Whatever you choose, take your time. Talk to as many doctors as you need to until you find the one who’s right for you.

Northeastern Plastic Surgery understands your desire for a beautiful, youthful looking body and facial appearance. We use the latest plastic surgery techniques to perform a variety of surgical procedures. Dr. Fodero and the staff are very friendly, helpful, and available to answer any questions you may have. Please contact us today to learn more about the services we offer.