What is the difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon?

When looking into any cosmetic surgery, it soon becomes clear how many acronyms, phrases and terms you need to understand in order to make a fully informed decision based on the information available. One of the first things to explore is whether or not there is a difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon. Do they operate within different areas? Can you expect different things from these types of surgeons? Or are they essentially the same thing?

In order to understand more about the surgeons, we must first understand the procedural differences. Cosmetic surgery has more of an aesthetic focus, aiming to help enhance the physical appearance of the patient (e.g. a facelift, liposuction or tummy tuck). Plastic surgery, on the other hand, can include this; however it may also purely contain the reconstructive elements (for example rebuilding areas of the body that have undergone severe trauma, such as a broken jaw or nose). To make this easy to remember, the original term ‘plastic’ in fact comes from the Greek word ‘plastikos’, which translates literally into ‘shape or mold’.

What about the people behind the procedures

In order to operate under the label of ‘plastic surgeon’, physicians or medical practitioners must undertake specific additional training in plastic surgery. This additional training is complex and gives plastic surgeons exposure to many areas, ranging from beauty-enhancing techniques such as face lifts and breast augmentation, to treating burns victims. Due to the complexity of the training, plastic surgeons have to train for an additional 6-8 years after finishing medical school.

By comparison, any registered physician can provide ‘cosmetic surgery’ offerings, as they are also highly skilled medical professionals. The main difference is that they have not undergone the specific plastic surgery training following their undergraduate medical training. However, it does not mean that these physicians will not have undergone additional training, in fact many may have opted to study in one or more of the areas covered by the cosmetic surgery remit.

Taking out the key differences

So, in a nutshell, they are different. A plastic surgeon will be guaranteed to have undergone at least 6-8 years of additional medical training to operate as a certified expert in this field. They also specialise in different areas – cosmetic surgery focuses on the visual appearance, whereas plastic surgery focuses on reconstruction (and depending on your surgeon, may also cover the aesthetic procedures too).

As plastic surgery is a very diverse and broad field of medicine, many will choose to specialise in a small number of dedicated areas. Mr Alan Park has been a Consultant Plastic Surgeon for over 15 years, having completed his Plastic Surgery Fellowship overseas in Canada. He focuses on a wide range of plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic procedures, and is also a paediatric plastic surgeon, meaning he specialises additionally in the treatment of children.