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Plastic surgery is much more than face lifts and tummy tucks. A good plastic surgeon possesses multiple skills, may work on any area of the human body and must be creative and have an eye for aesthetics. However, beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, an increased risk of malpractice lawsuits is the downside to following this career path. Training is extensive, expensive and takes several years, but plastic surgeons have high annual incomes.
Because plastic surgery is considered a surgical specialty, a surgeon's training takes many years. General surgeons usually spend about five years in residency; a plastic surgeon must add on another two or three years of specialty training in a fellowship program. Extensive training is necessary because plastic surgeons use so many different surgical techniques, including bone grafts, vascular surgery, skin grafts and tissue sculpting. Medical school costs in the 2012-2013 academic year ranged from $19,773 to $59,027 for private schools and $16,113 to $45,785 in public schools for residents of the state where the school was located, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges.
Surgical specialties in general face higher malpractice risks, according to a November 2012 article in “Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.” Plastic surgeons made up only 3.6 percent of the surgeons sued for malpractice between 1985 and 2010, but the authors note that patients often have unrealistic expectations about cosmetic procedures, which may motivate a patient’s decision to sue. Surgeons also face higher risks of contracting blood-borne diseases, particularly hepatitis, according to a July 2007 article in “The American Surgeon,” although HIV-AIDS is also a possibility. Surgery is a high-stress endeavor. In one survey reported in the September 2009 “Annals of Surgery,” 40 percent of surgeons reported feeling burned out and 30 percent had symptoms of depression.
Plastic surgeons experience considerable job satisfaction, according to results of a survey reported in an August 2010 article in “Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.” Only 4 percent of the respondents regretted their career choice. Those with the greatest job satisfaction were in a group practice, helped educate medical residents or performed primarily cosmetic, as opposed to reconstructive, surgery. Plastic surgery is a field with great variety in terms of different techniques used, procedures followed and the area of the anatomy dealt with, and allows the surgeon to exercise her creativity. It also offers flexibility in lifestyle, according to an article on the American College of Surgeons website. Plastic surgeons may choose to work in trauma, for example, which is a much less controlled setting than elective surgeries such as breast reconstruction or cosmetic surgery.
Although, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, new physicians graduated with $160,000 to $190,000 in debt in 2012, plastic surgery offers the opportunity to pay down debt more quickly than some other medical specialties. The median income for plastic surgeons in 2013 was $409,772, according to Cejka Search, a nationwide physician recruiting firm. In comparison, general surgeons earned $370,024, and dermatologists, who also perform some cosmetic procedures, earned $397,370. On the downside, plastic surgeons’ malpractice premiums were slightly more than twice as high as average, at $30,000 a year, in 2011, according to a November 2011 article in “Medical Economics.”
- Minnesota Medical Association: The Making of a Plastic Surgeon
- American College of Surgeons: Plastic Surgery
- American Association: Tuition and Student Fees, First-Year Medical School Students 2012-2013
- Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Medical Malpractice Risk Assessment in Plastic Surgery
- The American Surgeon: Occupational Risks of Blood Exposure in the Operating Room
- Annals of Surgery: Burnout and Career Satisfaction among American Surgeons
- Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: Satisfaction with Career Choice among U.S. Plastic Surgeons - Results From a National Survey
- American Association of Medical Colleges: Physician Education Debt and the Cost to Attend Medical School
- Cejka Search: Physician Compensation Report
- Medical Economics: Exclusive Survey - Malpractice Rates Plateauing
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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