There are major differences between a physician who is a board-certified plastic surgeon versus those who call themselves board-certified cosmetic surgeon. Plastic surgery encompasses both reconstructive and aesthetic surgery. Reconstructive surgery is the restoration of the body after a trauma/accident, cancer or birth defect. Aesthetic surgery or cosmetic surgery is the re-shaping of normal tissue to improve appearance. Aesthetic surgery is a part of plastic surgery and is not considered medically necessary. Reconstructive surgery is deemed necessary and is usually covered by health insurance.
Differences in Training
Following completion of medical school, a board-certified plastic surgeon must complete more than six years of surgical training and experience, with at least three years specifically in plastic surgery. Many physicians then further their training with fellowships in areas including microvascular, craniofacial, hand, pediatric and aesthetic. This is a key differentiator between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon1.
A practitioner referring to themselves as a cosmetic surgeon could belong to any medical specialty. He/she could be a general surgeon, gynecologist, dermatologist, family physician, internist, etc. who has decided that he/she wants to perform cosmetic procedures. The training can be anywhere from a one-year cosmetic surgery fellowship to a handful of short weekend courses on topics ranging from how to perform liposuction, utilize injectables, or place breast implants1. It is important to note that while all plastic surgeons have extensive training and can perform both reconstructive surgery and aesthetic/cosmetic surgery, not all cosmetic surgeons can perform reconstructive surgery because they have not received the same training as plastic surgeons.
It is always important to confirm that a plastic surgeon has been certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) – the only Board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) to certify doctors in the specialty of Plastic Surgery. Only ABPS diplomates can call themselves a plastic surgeon.
Cosmetic surgeons who claim to be board-certified may have received their certificate from the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, which is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. Alternatively, they may be certified by their specialty board (e.g. internal medicine) which may not even be a surgical specialty. Cosmetic surgeons referring to themselves as board-certified can be misleading if you don’t know the right questions to ask.
There is no ABMS recognized certifying board with “cosmetic surgery” in its name.
In conclusion, if you are considering any type of aesthetic/cosmetic procedure, it is prudent to be aware of the education and training of the surgeon you’re considering to perform your procedure. You can verify the credentials of a doctor by checking with your state medical board or verify your doctor’s certification status at http://www.certificationmatters.org/.