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Overview of Plastic Surgery

What is plastic surgery?

It's a common misunderstanding that the word plastic in plastic surgery means artificial. The word comes from the ancient Greek word plastikos, which means to mold or give form. Plastic surgery is a surgical specialty involved with both the improvement in a person's appearance and the reconstruction of facial and body tissue defects caused by illness, trauma, or birth disorders.

Plastic surgery restores and improves function, as well as appearance. It can involve surgery on any part of the anatomy, except the central nervous system, including:

  • Skin, including skin cancer, scars, burns, birthmarks, and tattoo removal

  • Maxillofacial (the facial skeleton)

  • Congenital anomalies, including deformed ears, cleft palate, and cleft lip

Doctor sitting at her office desk

Doctors who do plastic surgery

It's important to select a doctor who is certified in plastic surgery by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. Generally, a surgeon who is board-certified in plastic surgery has graduated from an accredited medical school and has completed at least 5 years of graduate medical education. This usually includes 3 years of general surgery and 2 years of plastic surgery. In addition, the surgeon must practice plastic surgery for 2 years and pass comprehensive written and oral exams to become board-certified. Board certification is renewed every 10 years to ensure ongoing competency in the specialty.

What does plastic surgery include?

Plastic surgery includes both reconstructive and aesthetic (cosmetic) procedures:

Reconstructive plastic surgery

In general, reconstructive surgery is done on abnormal structures of the body that may be caused by:

  • Trauma

  • Infection

  • Developmental abnormalities

  • Congenital (present at birth) anomalies

  • Disease

  • Tumors

This type of surgery is usually done to improve function, but may also be done to change appearance.

Cosmetic (aesthetic) plastic surgery

Cosmetic surgery is done to repair or reshape otherwise normal structures of the body, generally, to improve appearance.

Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN
Online Medical Reviewer: David Lickstein MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Date Last Reviewed: 10/1/2020
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