With more and more physicians leaving the insurance side of their practice and entering elective medicine, the line between a Plastic Surgeon and a Cosmetic Surgeon is becoming more confusing. The reality is, there is a big difference! Not all Surgeons may actually be Surgeons.

It is vital that anyone considering any sort of “cosmetic” surgical procedure understands the difference between the two specialties.

Plastic Surgeon:

To be come a plastic surgeon you have to be dedicated and endure a long road of education, training and examinations. To become a board certified plastic surgeon, there is even more required.

In the United States Plastic Surgeons:

  • Complete 4 years of medical school.
  • Complete a residency program with a minimal of 5 years of training, which is usually focused in general surgery. ( This means you pretty much operate on all parts of the body. This includes being training in dire circumstances like trauma and so forth.)
  • Minimal of another 2 years or 3 years of plastic surgery training.

Then to become a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon you have to pass a challenging written exam and then an oral exam where you are challenged by 6 different examiners.

The term “Cosmetic Surgeon” can be used by any physician. However, there is no official residency training in “cosmetic surgery” and it is not a recognized discipline by the American Board of Medical Specialities, i.e. – there is no Board Certification by ABMS in Cosmetic Surgery. This physician might not necessarily even have legitimate surgical training. To call yourself a “Cosmetic Surgeon” it may only require taking a test after your didactic weekend coarse and you can call yourself Board Certified. This isn’t to say that all “Cosmetic Surgeons” are not properly trained, however many may not be due to the loose terminology and lack of regulation of the term, “Cosmetic Surgeon”. A Cosmetic Surgeon or Cosmetic Specialist could be an ENT surgeon, a Dermatologist, a General Surgeon, an Opthalmologist, a General practitioner, or a Plastic Surgeon. This may come as a bit of shock for most people, as many people equate plastic surgery with cosmetic surgery.

I as a Nurse who specializes in aesthetics, do not pass any judgement on physicians of different disciplines practicing cosmetic surgery, as long as they are well-trained and honest about their credentials (as I would expect of plastic surgeons as well). I do have a problem with cosmetic surgeons misleading patients into thinking that they are plastic surgeons, taking advantage of the common misconception that public has about synonymity of plastic surgery with cosmetic surgery.

I’ve personally called several offices advertising Cosmetic surgery around the United States. Many times staff members incorrectly state that the General Surgeons or Cosmetic Surgeons are Plastic Surgeons, when questioned further they then clarify they are “Cosmetic Surgeons”.

Recent technological advances have blurred the line even further, providing medical specialties such as Dermatologists, Gynecologists and others to perform Liposuction right in their offices.

As a general rule, at your first consultation, ask your surgeon to explain his or her training to you. Ask what residency program they completed, ask if they are board-certified and in what specialty, ask if they belong to any societies and ask what the entrance requirements are for that society. A Plastic Surgeon should have the ASPS logo.

When it comes to your face and your body don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Nikki Rasmussen, RN is the owner and operator of YOLO aesthetic boutique & med spa located in Guilford, CT. Dr. Betty Kim, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, is available by appointment for surgical consultations for blephroplasty, face lifts, tummy tucks, mommy makeovers and more. For full details, visit

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