Facebook Pixel

Plastic Surgeon vs. Cosmetic Surgeon: What's the Difference?

Rate This

There absolutely is a difference between the terms plastic surgeon and cosmetic surgeon. An important one. In fact, this is one of the fundamental concepts to understand thoroughly before deciding whom you’ll choose to alter your appearance.

A surgeon who rightfully calls himself or herself a plastic surgeon has first been trained in general surgery. They then choose plastic surgery as their specialty and go on to get additional training and experience in that field. They become qualified to perform both reconstructive surgery, such as cleft palate repair, and cosmetic surgery, such as breast augmentation.

Plastic surgery was formally established as an area of surgical specialization in the 1930s, when the American Board of Plastic Surgery was formed. The role of the ABPS, similar to that of the American Board of Neurological Surgery and the American Board of Orthopaedic Surgery, is to evaluate plastic surgeons and ensure standards of training and patient care are met.

With this organization in place to ensure plastic surgeons measure up, you have a reliable resource at your fingertips. One of the best ways to ensure your prospective surgeon has been thoroughly trained and evaluated is to choose one who is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. The requirements for ABPS board certification include: a degree from an accredited medical school, at least five years of surgical internship and residency with at least two years devoted to plastic surgery, two years of successful practice and passing scores on oral and written exams.

In contrast, a cosmetic surgeon is a doctor who performs procedures to change the way a patient looks. There are no requirements or standards to be met other than those needed to use the initials M.D. It may be surprising but it’s true. Gynecologists, dermatologists and other doctors can add cosmetic procedures to their repertoire and often do. Cosmetic surgery is lucrative and most often free of insurance hassles for physicians.

Think of cosmetic surgery as a subset of plastic surgery. Some board-certified plastic surgeons perform both reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.

Add a Comment1 Comments


Great post. I never had any idea that there was a difference; I bet you taught a lot of people something today. Thank you!

June 2, 2009 - 8:11am
Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy
Add a Comment

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Cosmetic Procedures

Get Email Updates

Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!