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What Is the Difference Between a Cosmetic and a Plastic Surgeon?

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If you are just starting your plastic surgery journey, you’re probably deep into researching prospective surgeons. You also may have noticed certain surgeons are described on websites as being “cosmetic surgeons” or “plastic surgeons,” yet all offer similar procedures. So what’s the difference? 

Team of surgeons during an operation

There are distinguishing features between cosmetic and plastic surgeons, many of which depend on training, experience, and certification. Below, we’ll break down what these titles mean for you and your choice of surgeon.

Plastic Surgery vs. Cosmetic Surgery

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that there is some overlap in the language and expertise of these fields. Plastic surgeons who perform elective aesthetic procedures such as breast lifts and Mommy Makeovers are performing cosmetic procedures, which cosmetic surgeons also do. So, plastic surgeons can have training in both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures and thus can perform both types of surgeries, whereas cosmetic surgeons are only trained in cosmetic surgery.

Cosmetic surgery refers to elective procedures that improve or enhance the aesthetics of the face, breasts, and body. So while your plastic surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, if that surgeon performs a tummy tuck or breast augmentation, those procedures are considered cosmetic. 

Plastic surgery, however, refers to procedures both elective and non-elective that restore the body to its normal function or appearance. A primary example is breast reconstruction: if a patient has had a mastectomy due to breast cancer and undergoes a procedure that restores her breasts, this is considered plastic surgery. Plastic surgery and reconstructive surgery are considered the same field and can cover several procedures, such as burn repair surgery, congenital defect repair, or scar revision. 

Should I Choose a Cosmetic Surgeon or a Plastic Surgeon?

While both professions can and are trained to perform cosmetic procedures, the choice should ultimately depend on the surgeon’s experience, training, and if they are board-certified.

What Does it Mean to Be Board-Certified?

Cosmetic surgeons are certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, while plastic surgeons are accredited by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. However, only the American Board of Plastic Surgery is recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialists. 

To become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a surgeon must undergo at least six years of residency training, with at least half of that in plastic and reconstructive procedures. On top of that, they must complete a surgical residency program and at least one year of a fellowship program specializing in cosmetic surgery. 

For plastic surgeons to be board-certified, they have to go above and beyond the already extensive plastic, reconstructive, cosmetic, and general surgical training.  

Board certification communicates that a plastic surgeon has committed to bettering their craft, has sought out every avenue of additional education, and has a solid dedication to the highest safety and performance standards. 

For the best possible safety, results, and expertise, it is recommended that you seek a board-certified plastic surgeon for your cosmetic procedures. 

The Bottom Line

Choosing your plastic surgeon is a big decision; while there are multiple factors to consider, you should always look first towards board certification as a must-have!

Interested in Quality Cosmetic Procedures in Oxford, MS?

Dr. Dan H. Shell is a board-certified plastic surgeon with over 20 years of experience performing cosmetic and reconstructive facial, breast, and body procedures. With a dedication to his patients and the highest results and safety standards, Dr. Shell can help you achieve your aesthetic goals. Call Shell Plastic Surgery today at (662) 236-6465 to schedule a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you!