How to Become a Plastic Surgeon | 5 Requirements

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon – Overview

Cosmetic surgery refers to elective procedures aimed at enhancing appearance and is distinguished from plastic surgery, which includes both aesthetic and reconstructive procedures.

However, plastic surgery is the medical solution when a person’s face needs to be reconstructed following a traumatic injury, birth defect, burn, illness or accident.

Plastic surgeons are medical professionals who perform surgical procedures for cosmetic enhancements and reconstructive needs. They require extensive education and certification.

Plastic surgery encompasses a broad field that includes cosmetic (aesthetic) surgery and reconstructive surgery among its specialties.

Cosmetic surgery is used to improve one’s physical and facial appearance and is intended mostly for aesthetics.

On the other hand, reconstructive surgery is meant to resolve restrictive birth defects, injuries, etc., to ensure the smooth and normal functioning of the body.

What is a Plastic Surgeon

Plastic surgeons are specialists in performing aesthetic-enhancing surgeries that improve the outer appearance of patients.

They are also trained to perform surgical treatments that help patients recover the use of physical functions, such as limb or digit functions, after traumatic injury, ailment, or accident.

Board-certified plastic surgeons get education and training in various cosmetic and reconstructive surgery aspects.

These surgeons can also choose to specialize in certain cosmetic treatments, such as specific body areas. They are also trained to perform non-surgical treatments, such as tattoo removal, chemical peels, or Botox injections.

A solid knowledge of surgical anatomy, physiology, pathology, and other relevant sciences is considered an ideal candidate for a plastic surgeon.

In addition, they should have significant technical expertise, follow ethical behavior, have manual dexterity, good surgical judgment, and excellent communication skills.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Plastic Surgeon

Like any other doctor, prospective plastic surgeons begin their education with a four-year undergraduate degree in science.

The curriculum is designed to fulfill medical school requirements. Thus, you will need to have a strong grasp of advanced sciences, pharmacology, physiology, and medical ethics taught in the first two years.

The last two years of medical school involve getting practical clinical experience.

How to become a Plastic Surgeon

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

The path to becoming a plastic surgeon is extremely competitive. Hence, if you are ready to work long hours to secure the coveted position, you would be an ideal candidate to become a plastic surgeon.

Let’s check the step-by-step educational aspects of becoming a plastic surgeon.

1 – Earn a bachelor’s degree

All aspiring surgeons must complete pre-med courses during their undergraduate years. These may include biology, physics, and inorganic and organic chemistry.

Before graduating, you should also appear for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).

Then, you must show letters of recommendation from your medical school mentors, reputed people in your community, your professors, and, if possible, from plastic surgeons who are currently practicing.

2 – Graduate from medical school

During the first two years of medical school, you must study science subjects, such as microbiology, pathology, pharmacology, physiology, anatomy, and biochemistry.

The remaining two years involve participating in clinical rotations. During this period, you will get first-hand experience working with patients.

You can acquire a Medical Doctor (M.D.) degree or an equivalent Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.).

3 – Earn a license to practice

Every potential plastic surgeon planning to practice in the United States must have a valid medical license.

If you’ve acquired an M.D., you must pass the USMLE (the United States Medical Licensing Exam). If you have a D.O. degree, you must pass the COMLEX (Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Exam).

Each test includes three parts and evaluates your ability to apply basic and advanced science concepts when practicing medicine.

4 – Enter plastic surgery residency

Once you have acquired your license to practice as a budding plastic surgeon, you will need the training to become a skilled healthcare professional.

Residency pathways to become a plastic surgeon include a 6-year integrated residency program or a more traditional pathway involving a surgery residency followed by a plastic surgery residency. The specific duration and structure of these programs can vary by institution.

On the other hand, you can also choose to enroll in a 6-year integrated residency.

This involves both types of training. At times, residency for plastic surgery may also involve conducting research studies, teaching, attending medical/surgical conferences, and dissecting cadavers.

After completing residency training, candidates must pass the board certification exams by the American Board of Plastic Surgery or the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery to be board-certified plastic surgeons.

For this, you must enroll in the certification exam conducted by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) for M.D. degree holders or enroll and pass the American Osteopathic Board of Surgery (AOBS) for D.O. degree holders.

Once you have become fully certified, you must continue your education and renew your certificate as and when required.

5 – Complete a fellowship

Last but not least, you must be trained in one of the several sub-specialties of plastic surgery.

Fellowship programs in sub-specialties of plastic surgery vary in length, typically one to two years, depending on the specific area of focus. Apart from getting valuable training in your chosen specialty, the fellowship duration also lets you work with experienced plastic surgeons in the private practice setting.

What is the Average Salary of a Plastic Surgeon

Several factors govern a plastic surgeon’s salary in the US. The average annual compensation for a plastic surgeon in the US is around $526,000.

With decade-long experience, you can increase your earnings year over year.

Plastic surgeons specializing in reconstructive or cosmetic surgeries are ranked seventh-highest earners.


Plastic surgeons are incredibly popular and in demand today.

With several years of education and training, you can become a successful practicing plastic surgeon in the US and earn a high salary in the future.

See Also

What is a Resident Doctor

Best Plastic Surgeons in California

How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon

Current Version
April 1, 2024
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.
September 17, 2023
Updated By
Andrea Morales G.

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