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Plastic Surgeon Career Requirements

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Many people automatically think of cosmetic procedures in connection with a plastic surgeon. But these specialists also repair, reconstruct or remove physical defects that result from a wide range of problems. A plastic surgeon may work on nearly any area of the body, and many specialize in a particular body location, such as the head and neck or hands. The annual salary for a plastic surgeon in 2010 ranged from $275,000 to $499,656, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.


Like all physicians, plastic surgeons spend many years in training, beginning with four years of college. This is followed by four years of medical school and a residency training program. Most residencies in plastic surgery take a minimum of five years and may last seven or more years. Plastic surgeons who want to pursue a subspecialty need at least one additional year of training. They must also be licensed, and many are also board-certified.

Skills and Knowledge

Plastic surgeons acquire special skills and knowledge, such as how to design a skin graft or create a flap graft. They learn how to transfer tissue from one part of the body to another; manage complex wounds; and use implantable materials, such as plastic or metal. They must have good judgment and strong technical expertise, and uphold ethical standards. Plastic surgeons must have good communication skills to explain complex medical terminology and procedures to patients and to provide emotional support.

What They Do

In addition to administering cosmetic procedures, such as face lifts, plastic surgeons may treat the bones of the face and skull; repair cleft lips or cleft palates; reattach severed fingers, toes or limbs; and treat congenital problems. Microvascular plastic surgery is so delicate that it requires the use of a microscope and tiny sutures finer than human hair. Burn patients often need plastic surgery to cover areas where skin has been damaged or scarred. Patients who have received traumatic injuries may also need plastic surgery.

Other Qualities

In addition to training, specialized knowledge and experience, successful plastic surgeons must develop certain personal skills, characteristic or qualities. Manual dexterity is a critical skill for any surgeon, and some degree of mechanical aptitude is useful, as plastic surgeons use a wide variety of tools in their work. Good vision is another important characteristic for a plastic surgeon. Attention to detail and patience ensure that the surgical results will be as good as they can possibly be.


Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.

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