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Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery: What You Need to Know

Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery: What You Need to Know


Despite that fact that many plastic surgeries/cosmetic surgeries are elective, patients who chose to have them are subject to the same risks and complications that any surgical patient faces.  Surgery of any kind should be carefully considered, and even if the benefits appear to outweigh the risks, extensive research should be done to educate oneself before going under the knife.

Fact:  Licensed physicians are legally allowed to perform cosmetic surgery, regardless of how they received their training!

Shocking, but true.  This is why it’s not uncommon to hear about dentists who perform rhinoplasties or gynecologists who do tummy tucks.  Undoubtedly, some of these procedures are “botched” because the physician lacked the formal training necessary to be successful at these operations.  Because of the potential for poorer outcomes, the medical community generally frowns upon this practice.

The general public commonly uses the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery” interchangeably, but this is inappropriate and incorrect.  While there are several sub-specialties (particularly in the field of plastic surgery), plastic/reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery are distinct, with each discipline requiring unique training and board certifications.

“Plastic,” aka “reconstructive” surgery is a surgical specialty that is largely dedicated to the correction of congenital defects, traumas, burns and scar revisions, etc.  The path to a career in plastic surgery is quite rigorous.  After finishing medical school, a residency or fellowship in plastic surgery is completed.  Ideally, this culminates with a certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery.  Plastic surgeons may also choose to incorporate a range of cosmetic surgery into their education and ultimately, their practice.  Plastic surgery and its sub-specialties is one of the most demanding disciplines in the field of medicine.

Cosmetic surgery is primarily concerned with the aesthetics of appearance.  Common procedures include breast augmentation, liposuction, rhinoplasty, tummy tucks, etc.  After completing medical school and a residency or fellowship, a physician interested in practicing cosmetic surgery should complete post-residency training in cosmetic surgery (there are currently no residency programs in the United States specifically focused on cosmetic surgery) in order to become board certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery.

While there is considerable (and appropriate) crossover between these disciplines, finding the right doctor to perform a specific surgery is critical when attempting to stack the odds in one’s favor.  It should be noted that physicians often build wildly successful practices around an expertise in just one or two procedures, so doing one’s homework is critical when choosing a surgeon.

An undesirable or botched outcome can certainly result if the surgeon is lacking the appropriate skill set or experience, but because so many variables contribute to the outcome, there are inherent risks and complications no matter what.  These can range from aesthetically displeasing after effects (i.e.: scarring, unnatural appearance) to serious medical conditions (i.e.: infections, nerve damage) to life threatening situations (i.e.: major cardiac and pulmonary events) just to name a few.

Going under anesthesia presents risks for every patient, but certain populations (children, the obese, the elderly) are particularly vulnerable when exposed to the process of being anesthetized.  Though this type of complication is rare, it is potentially catastrophic.  For example, a child undergoing surgical treatment for a cleft palate can suffer air-way management problems whereas an older patient may be more susceptible to drug toxicity because of reduced renal or liver function.

Outside factors should also play a part in one’s decision-making process.  Ponder an outcome where friends or co-workers respond with negativity, jealousy or ridicule.  Consider giving a spouse or partner the opportunity to express an opinion as to how the surgery may impact the relationship.  Finally, think about the potential for children to adopt a self-critical or poor body image as the result of a parent’s physical transformation.

Plastic (reconstructive) and/or cosmetic surgery should not be undertaken lightly.  Even minimally invasive procedures should be well researched and performed by an experienced physician.  Be honest with your doctor about your pre-existing conditions and lifestyle habits.  Something as simple as mentioning that you smoke could be the difference between a successful outcome and a medical emergency.  When you’re trying to decide who will perform your procedure look for someone who has been board certified.

MAKE SURE TO ASK QUESTIONS.  Any doctor worth his/her salt will gladly answer them.  If you are uncertain about what to ask, go to: plasticsurgery.org for a list of questions provided by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.


Goudreau, Jenna, “The Hidden Dangers of Cosmetic Surgery,” June, 2011, forbes.com
Nath, Soumya Sankar, et al, “Anesthetic Complications in Plastic Surgery,” 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Schaefer, Anna, “The 10 Most Common Plastic Surgery Complications,” February, 2015, http://www.healthline.com/
New Statistics Reflect the Changing Face of Plastic Surgery,” February, 2016 https://www.plasticsurgery.org/
Important Facts About the Safety and Risks of Plastic Surgery,https://www.plasticsurgery.org/
Cosmetic Surgery,http://www.mayoclinic.org/
Questions to Ask Your Plastic Surgeon,https://www.plasticsurgery.org/
 “About Cosmetic Surgery,http://www.cosmeticsurgery.org/
Cosmetic Surgery vs. Plastic Surgery,http://www.cosmeticsurgery.org/
Michelle Poe Posted by Michelle Poe, a writer for drdrew.com. Enjoy posts from guests and experts on life’s important topics. This website is for informational and/or entertainment purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.