Plastic Surgeon or Cosmetic Surgeon: What’s the Difference?

With the increasing popularity of cosmetic or aesthetic surgery, patients often encounter different terms such as “plastic surgeon”, “aesthetic plastic surgeon”, “cosmetic plastic surgeon”, “plastic and reconstructive surgeon”, “cosmetic surgeon” or “aesthetic surgeon”. Is there any difference whether a patient chooses a plastic surgeon or a cosmetic surgeon to perform the procedure they are interested in? The answer is YES, there is a difference.

Patients considering plastic surgery should know that in the Philippines, it is legal for physicians who are NOT PLASTIC SURGEONS to perform cosmetic surgery. Once doctors get their medical degrees, they may practice any specialty, even if they have not completed advanced training in the field they have chosen. And so, a doctor who performs cosmetic plastic surgery is not necessarily trained as a plastic surgeon.

Many documentaries have been made and many horror stories have been told about plastic surgery that went terribly wrong , but in most cases these procedures were done by unskilled and unqualified physicians.

Plastic surgery – like any surgery – carries risks and must be treated seriously. To ensure the best results for the surgery you are considering, choose an authentic plastic surgeon with the training and experience that is essential for the success of your surgery. Choosing the right surgeon is the single most important decision a patient considering plastic surgery will make.

Plastic Surgeons

The primary difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon is the training that they have undergone.

To become a plastic surgeon and use the title of “Plastic Surgeon” in his clinical practice, a doctor must be fully licensed to practice medicine and must undergo at least five to six years of a formal residency training program in Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery that is accredited by the Philippine Board of Plastic Surgery, in a hospital or medical center that is accredited by the Philippine College of Surgeons to provide such training. This includes three to five years of general surgery residency and two to three years of plastic surgery residency. Doctors who have completed residency training in plastic and reconstructive surgery are the only doctors who can rightfully claim to be plastic surgeons.

A fully trained plastic surgeon can therefore use any or all of the following titles: Plastic Surgeon, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon, Aesthetic Plastic Surgeon, Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon, Facial Plastic Surgeon, Aesthetic Surgeon, and Cosmetic Surgeon.

Cosmetic Surgeons

On the other hand, cosmetic or aesthetic surgeons are doctors who perform cosmetic surgery procedures, regardless of the training they have received. Thus, the use of the titles “Cosmetic Surgeon” or “Aesthetic Surgeon” may mean many different things. The patient must inquire into the training of the doctor because these doctors have varying credentials, such as residency training in general surgery, ENT, OB-Gyne, dermatology, or the doctor may not even have formal surgical training.

In the Philippine setting, it is usually a doctor who practices cosmetic surgery and who has not undergone an accredited formal residency training in plastic and reconstructive surgery, who uses the title of “Cosmetic Surgeon” or “Aesthetic Surgeon”. From an ethical point of view, such doctor should not use a title containing the word “Plastic” because only those with accredited training recognized by the Philippine College of Surgeons are entitled to do so.

Doctors who call themselves “Cosmetic Plastic Surgeons” or “Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons”, but have not undergone residency training in plastic and reconstructive surgery, are misleading the general public and engaging in unethical medical practice.

Choosing a Plastic or Cosmetic Surgeon

The extensive training that a plastic surgeon undergoes gives him a definite advantage over a cosmetic surgeon who has not had this specialized training.

Mere familiarity with the anatomy of a certain body region does not automatically give a doctor the skill to perform cosmetic surgery in that area. The principles of plastic surgery require years of training and experience to be mastered.

General surgeons have more training in doing intestinal resections, appendectomies, cholecystectomies, mastectomies,thyroidectomies and hemorrhoidectomies than in doing cosmetic surgery. Dermatologists have more training in the medical treatment of skin disorders and often do not have training in the surgical treatment of skin lesions. Ear, nose and throat specialists and obstetrician-gynecologists have more training in their fileds of specialty than in doing breast augmentations, facial surgery and liposuction.

A doctor who practices cosmetic surgery must not only know how to do a procedure, but he must also know what to do in case wound healing does not proceed normally or when other complications arise. The specialty of plastic and reconstructive surgery has a major focus on the treatment of difficult wounds and chronic non-healing ulcers. Surgery is not an exact science and the body may react in unpredictable ways. A plastic surgeon is trained to respond to unexpected outcomes.

In addition to possessing an array of technical skills to use when dealing with complications, a plastic surgeon develops a sense of form, an aesthetic judgment, and an ability to visualize the end result. His training and years of experience make a definite difference in the quality of work and success of the surgery.

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