Information on Pursuing a Career As a Cosmetic Plastic Surgeon

by Stephanie Dube Dwilson

Cosmetic surgery is projected to be a growing field from 2010 to 2020, as people continue to seek ways to decrease the signs of aging or improve parts of their body they are dissatisfied with. Cosmetic surgeons also work with people who are disfigured from birth defects or accidents -- areas that continually have needs that need to be filled. The requirements to be certified are extensive and thorough. Becoming a cosmetic plastic surgeon is not an easy path.


The first step to becoming a cosmetic plastic surgeon is getting a bachelor's degree and graduating from medical school. Your bachelor's degree should include a variety of science courses to help you pass the Medical College Admission Test. Competition to get into medical school is fierce, so in addition to good grades you should also show that you are well-rounded and have volunteered in related fields.

Residency Training

After graduating from medical school, you will need to spend three years to five years, sometimes up to seven years, in a related residency program. There is no special cosmetic plastic surgeon residency, so you will likely choose between residencies in dermatology, general surgery, oral/maxillofacial surgery and similar fields. After completing your residency, you will spend one to two years in a fellowship specializing in cosmetic plastic surgery.

Qualifying for the Certification Exam

Before you can take the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery certification exam, you must either have performed 50 cosmetic surgeries if you took a two-year fellowship, or 100 cosmetic surgeries for a one-year fellowship. You must have hospital operating privileges as well as an Advanced Cardiac Life Support certification, and be board certified in dermatology, general surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, otolaryngology, or plastic and reconstructive surgery. Some applicants apply via an experience route or alternative practice route instead, and they have a different set of requirements.

Certification Exam

You must pass both the oral and written components of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery certification exam within three years of each other before becoming certified. The exams cover subjects such as the breast, body/extremity, liposuction, facial, dermatology, patient safety and surgical principles. You can seek certification in one of several areas: body, breast and extremity cosmetic surgery; dermatologic cosmetic surgery; facial cosmetic surgery; or general cosmetic surgery.

Work Environment

The life of a cosmetic plastic surgeon is not as glamorous as it may sound. Some plastic surgeons may work for hours in a 100-degree operating room reconstructing a child who is badly burned. Others might stand for 10 hours or longer while reconstructing a mangled limb or injured face. Days off might not be spent resting, but used to prepare a lecture for peers who are invited to criticize your work. Rounds might start as early as 5 a.m. Plastic surgeons need to truly love their work to thrive in such a high-stress environment.

Job Outlook and Pay

The job outlook is good for all surgeons, including cosmetic plastic surgeons, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The job growth rate from 2010 to 2020 is expected to be 24 percent, faster than the national average, and about 168,300 jobs will be added. The aging population is expected to add to the demand for surgeons, as these patients seek the latest technology and newest therapies. Physicians in medical specialties, which include plastic surgery, made an annual salary of $356,885 in 2010, according to the BLS.

About the Author

With features published by media such as Business Week and Fox News, Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an accomplished writer with a law degree and a master's in science and technology journalism. She has written for law firms, public relations and marketing agencies, science and technology websites, and business magazines.

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