Plastic Surgeon Job Description

Plastic surgeons repair and reshape the human body with great precision and care. They can pursue one of two specialties, either reconstructive or aesthetic surgery. Reconstructive plastic surgeons mend injuries and defects, while cosmetic plastic surgeons use elective procedures to enhance a patient’s physical appearance. As medical doctors, plastic surgeons are natural leaders capable of making sound decisions even in high-stress situations. Plastic surgeons working in hospitals generally report directly to the head of their department, but many choose to open their own practice while maintaining a relationship with a hospital where they’ll perform some surgeries.


Plastic Surgeon Duties and Responsibilities

There are many differences betweenthe two plastics specialties—from training and research to medical philosophies and goals—butcosmetic and reconstructive surgeons do share a common set of day-to-day responsibilities. Some of those duties include:

Assess Patients

Plastic surgeons always hold consultations prior to treatment. These appointments are used to assess a patient’s needs, review medical histories and pre-existing conditions, and discuss surgical risks. Frank and thorough assessments help plastic surgeons choose treatment plans that best suit their patients.

Perform Surgical and Non-Surgical Operations

A plastic surgeon’s primary responsibility is performing surgical and non-surgical procedures, and they use a variety of reparative and reconstructive techniques to get the job done. Cosmetic plastic surgeons commonly perform breast augmentations and reductions, liposuction, and facelifts. Reconstructive plastic surgeonsuse craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, microsurgery, and other techniques to repair injuries.

Prescribe Medication

Depending on the procedure, patients might need prescription medication before or after surgery. Plastic surgeons must stay up-to-date on the latest drugs and their associated risks. Painkillersare commonly prescribed, as aresedatives and antibiotics that help prevent infections after surgery.

Patient Follow-ups

A plastic surgeon’s responsibility to their patients continues even after surgery. They schedule follow-up examsto check that wounds and incisions are healing properly. These appointments are also used to remove stitches, teach patients how to ensure continued health and wellness, and address any lingering questions or concerns.

Administrative Duties

Recording a patient’s medical history and updating their records with any services performed is another key responsibility. These are sensitive documents, so plastic surgeons must abide by any record-keeping policies or regulations to protect patient confidentially.


Plastic Surgeon Skills and Qualifications

Plastic surgeryis all about the patient. A successful career in this field depends on sharp social skills and a strong sense of ethics on top of the necessary years of training. Advances in research mean education is a lifelong pursuit, but once they’ve earned their doctorate and completed residency training, plastic surgeons have the following skills:

  • Surgical techniques –plastic surgeons proficiently use dozens of surgical techniques, such as the use of implantable devices, microsurgery, flap surgery, skin grafting, and tissue expansion
  • Wound management- plastic surgery requires extensive knowledge of complex wounds, such as burns or injuries sustained in a car accident. Once these injuries are treated,plastic surgeons use wound management techniques (cleansing, skin closing, and wound dressing) to promote healing
  • Manual dexterity- delicate, risky procedures demand plastic surgeons make precise and coordinated movements with their fingers, arms, and hands
  • Stress tolerance –operating rooms are often high-stress environments, but successful plastic surgeons maintain precision and accuracy by staying cool under pressure
  • Bedside manner —plastic surgery is a service-oriented field where patient health and quality of life are the highest priorities, socourtesy and compassion are crucial character traits
  • Reasoning skills –plastic surgeons use both inductive and deductive reasoningto synthesize information and make informed decisions regarding a patient’s treatment and care


Tools of the Trade

Plastic surgeons handle a variety of tools depending on the type of procedure, but some common ones include:

  • Specialty tools (such as forceps, retractors, scissors, and suction components)
  • Medical software (Epic System, AdvancedMD, or other facility management software)
  • Imaging software (Mirror, AccuView, or other imaging software)


Plastic Surgeon Education and Training

Becoming a plastic surgeon is a lengthy journey that starts with a bachelor’s degree. Prospective plastic surgeons can pursue any undergraduate field of study, but pre-medical students must complete prerequisite courses in biology, chemistry, and physics.Before applying to medical school, pre-med students must take and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Medical school typically takes four years. The first two years focus on classroom studies and labs, while the last two years are spent working directly with patients under a doctor’s supervision. After successfully completing medical school, future plastic surgeons must complete a three- to seven-year surgical residency, during which they learn about wound management, surgical techniques, and ethical surgical standards. After completing their residency program, plastic surgeons must obtain the appropriate licensing and board certifications before practicing.


Plastic Surgeon Salary and Outlook

In May 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quoted the median annual salary for surgeonsat $206,920. Salary can vary greatlybased on specialty, butthe majority of surgeons make at least $208,000 a year. Approximately 106,500 new surgical jobs will be added by 2026, equaling an above-average growth rate of 15 percent.


Helpful Resources

Interested in learning more about becoming a plastic surgeon? These resources will get you started on the right path:

American College of SurgeonsThe ACS was founded in 1913 and is dedicated to improving surgical care

Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science written by Atul Gawande, this book provides a detailed account of plastic surgery as a career choice from a plastic surgeon’s point of view

American Board of Plastic Surgerythe ABPS has been certifying plastic surgeons, and educating others about the certification process, for the past 81 years

The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty, Third Edition Brain Freeman wrote this helpful career guide for anyone unsure of which medical career path is right for them

American College of Osteopathic Surgeonsestablished in 1927, the ACOS provides continuing education and leadership development for plastic surgeons


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