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These are closely related, but different. Plastic and cosmetic surgery both are intended to improve a patient’s body, but philosophies guiding the education, research, and goals for patient outcomes are different.

Plastic surgery is defined as a “surgical specialty” dedicated to reconstruction of facial and body defects due to birth disorders, trauma, burns, and disease, and is reconstructive in nature. Examples include breast reconstruction, congenital defect repairs, lower extremity reconstruction, hand surgery, burn repairs, and scar revisions.

Cosmetic surgery focuses on enhancing a patient’s appearance, and is usually elective. It can be performed on all areas of the body, and the most common procedures include breast enhancement, facial contouring and rejuvenation, body contouring, and skin rejuvenation. Any licensed physician is legally permitted to perform cosmetic surgery.

However, the training and certification process for board-certified plastic surgeons is much more extensive than for cosmetic surgeons. Physicians who become board-certified in plastic surgery have completed a residency in general surgery plus an additional 2 years in plastic surgery. The basis of their surgical training is reconstructive plastic surgery. Residency programs in plastic surgery may include cosmetic surgery as a portion of their training.

Since any licensed physician can legally perform cosmetic surgery, it is critically important to do research when choosing your surgeon. Some doctors are not board-certified at all. I strongly recommend that you only choose board-certified plastic surgeons for cosmetic or plastic surgery. I continue to be one of the few in our area who is double-board certified, in plastic and general surgery.

This article was originally published in the News-Herald’s “Health Focus” on June 5th, 2017