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For many, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery may seem like one and the same. While both terms can refer to overlapping concepts, there is an important difference between the two that anyone seeking an elective procedure should be aware of.

Cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery vary not only in their definitions, but also in the qualifications and training required of practitioners. If you’re seeking a procedure to enhance an aspect of your appearance or improve part of your body, understanding the difference between cosmetic and plastic surgery will help you choose the best surgeon to meet your needs.

Cosmetic and Plastic Surgery Defined

The most important distinction between cosmetic and plastic surgery is that the two practices have different goals.

Plastic surgery is a broad field that refers to procedures aimed toward improving either the function or appearance of the face or body. For instance, skin grafting to improve a burn or scar, liposuction to slim down the waistline and breast reconstruction following a mastectomy all fall into the general category of plastic surgery.

Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is a subspecialty of plastic surgery that refers strictly to aesthetic procedures. Breast augmentation, liposuction and tummy tuck surgery are all cosmetic in nature.

Qualifications and Training

Choosing the right surgeon for your goals is one of the most important steps you can take toward achieving your ideal outcome. Learning about the training required to become a plastic or a cosmetic surgeon is an excellent way to gain insight into the expertise of your chosen doctor.

Becoming a Plastic Surgeon

Becoming a board-certified plastic surgeon requires an extensive background in education, training and practice. After completing medical school, a physician must take part in a surgical residency program for a minimum of three years. During this time, he or she will undergo rigorous training in all aspects of plastic surgery, including reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.

Following the residency program, many plastic surgeons go on to complete a fellowship, during which they can choose to specialize in a subcategory of plastic surgery. Finally, surgeons can choose to become certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. While this certification is not required to practice plastic surgery, the achievement indicates the highest caliber of dedication to advanced plastic surgery techniques and research.

Becoming a Cosmetic Surgeon

Cosmetic surgeons, on the other hand, can have a range of backgrounds. In fact, any licensed physician can technically perform cosmetic surgery as long as he or she undergoes some form of training. Training can be as extensive as a fellowship or as brief as a handful of weekend courses.

Because of the range of expertise in the field of cosmetic surgery, many men and women interested in improving their appearances choose to search for a board-certified plastic surgeon rather than a cosmetic surgeon.

Meeting Your Appearance Goals with Plastic Surgery

Regardless of your appearance concerns, it’s important to feel comfortable with your surgeon. Whether you’re seeking reconstructive surgery such as breast reconstruction or scar revision, or hoping that cosmetic procedures can improve your figure after childbirth, weight fluctuations or age, you deserve a surgeon with extensive training and the most cutting edge techniques. By taking the time to find the best surgeon for your goals, you can help ensure that you’ll have a positive experience from consultation through recovery.

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