Cosmetic Surgeon vs Plastic Surgeon vs Board Certified Plastic Surgeon

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The terms Cosmetic Surgeon, Plastic Surgeon and Board Certified Plastic Surgeon have resonated in the field of medicine and have often times been misinterpreted in their meaning, use and technicality. Although cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery are closely related, they are significantly different in terms of education, training, and overall treatment goals.

What is the difference between cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery?
Cosmetic surgery is a discipline in medicine that uses surgical and non-surgical procedures to enhance the appearance of one’s body. Cosmetic surgery is an elective surgery geared towards helping an individual achieve their cosmetic desires and goals. Cosmetic surgery can be performed on numerous areas on an individual, to include: the head, neck, face and body.

Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty that focuses on correcting dysfunctional areas of the body in order to improve the appearance and ensure proper functionality of the body and organ systems. Reconstructive plastic surgery is performed for various reasons, some of which include: injury, trauma, burns, birth disorders, and/or disease. Aesthetic surgery focuses on aesthetic improvement.

How is the education and training different?
A practitioner who refers to themselves as a Cosmetic Surgeon can essentially belong to any other medical specialty and has decided that they would like to perform cosmetic procedures. To become a Cosmetic Surgeon, one must graduate from medical school and complete a residency in any kind of specialty (it does not necessarily have to be plastic surgery). They then specialize in cosmetic surgery, which can be obtained by completing a 1-year fellowship in cosmetic surgery or even just by attending cosmetic procedure classes or weekend training courses.

To become a Plastic Surgeon, one must graduate from medical school and complete a 6-8 year accredited residency program that is specific to plastic surgery, alongside passing an extensive written and oral examination. Based on the educational training and requirements, it is guaranteed that a Plastic Surgeon has completed 100% of the rigorous curriculum, necessary training and proper credentialing in their specialized field.


What does it mean to be a “Board Certified” plastic surgeon?
“Board Certified” simply means that one satisfies the requirements for board certification in a certain field and can be accomplished in various medical specialties and sub-specialties. A Board Certified Plastic Surgeon is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which is the only Board recognized by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) to certify doctors in the discipline of Plastic Surgery. This ensures that a surgeon has completed an approved residency program of at least 6 years and has passed a comprehensive written and oral examination. Board certification is a significant factor in determining a surgeon’s qualifications, with a strict set of criteria and formal training to ensure a high level of proficiency and expertise in their field.

Jonathan Zelken, MD is board—certified in plastic surgery, a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), and a diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery.