By: Dr. Chase Derrick


Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeons–Is there a difference?

Answer: There ABSOLUTELY is a difference

What’s the difference between a plastic surgeon and cosmetic surgeon? Aren’t they the same? I get asked this question all the time, because let’s face it–healthcare is confusing!

A plastic surgeon has studied the field of plastic surgery which encompasses a wide array of surgeries including those that enhance the body and reconstruct the body due to trauma, cancer, or another illness or malady. My training, for example, included 4 years of undergraduate college obtaining a degree in biology, 4 years of medical school, and then 6 years of plastic surgery training. I studied hard in medical school and worked to gain acceptance into one of the prestigious plastic surgery residencies immediately following medical school. Only the top applicants are accepted to integrated plastic surgery programs directly from medical school. Another pathway to plastic surgery training is to go through general surgery first (5 years) and then opt to do a fellowship in plastic surgery (3 years). The importance here is highlighting that no matter which route to board certification, it took YEARS of training focused on all aspects of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures as well as before and after surgery care and management of complications. I was trained in aesthetic/cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery of the entire body. That’s it. That is my area of expertise.

The final step in becoming a plastic surgeon is to pass the boards. The American Board of Plastic Surgery is the one you should look for as it is the only plastic surgery board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. A board-certified plastic surgeon has passed a written test and then an oral exam documenting that they truly understand the scope of practice that plastic surgery encompasses. After the plastic surgeon passes the written test, a year must go by in which all of their surgical cases are documented and submitted to the board. Then, an oral exam is conducted by experts in the field where questions are asked about the surgeon’s cases and management including their approach, treatment, and postoperative care.

Now here is where the confusion starts….plastic surgeons perform cosmetic surgery–surgery that enhances one’s physique. This can be done through multiple routes such as a breast augmentation, facelift, mommy makeover, tummy tuck, liposuction, etc.

So what is a cosmetic surgeon then?

A cosmetic surgeon does not have the same training and background. There is no guarantee they have been extensively trained or really trained at all in the surgeries they are performing. Any physician can perform cosmetic surgeries in the US even if none of those surgeries were part of their training. For some, they have a completely different area of expertise. I have seen some OB/Gyn physicians and emergency room physicians who have chosen to market themselves as “cosmetic surgeons” and started performing aesthetic procedures. Those specialties have no cosmetic surgery case volume requirements that exist in Plastic Surgery training to protect patients. Even those who are part of the Cosmetic Surgery Board may only have 1 or 2 years exposure to cosmetic surgery. While I was learning to perform breast augmentations, mommy makeovers, and breast reconstruction surgeries, those individuals were spending their training time delivering babies or managing trauma patients. I have seen many patients who went to a “cosmetic surgeon” who said they could obtain the outcomes a patient desired, and in reality gave subpar results resulting in scars, misplaced implants, and other complications. That cheaper surgery now resulted in another surgery to fix it and added costs and difficulty for the correction.


Always opt for a board-certified plastic surgeon, certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, a.k.a. an expert–a person who has taken and passed every test in the specialty of plastic surgery. There is no higher level of achievement for plastic surgeons. Cosmetic surgeons aren’t the same…their training is not the same. They could have been in a different speciality completely and then just decided to start doing cosmetic surgery. If problems occur, who will you ultimately go to–the best who has extensively studied the field for years or the surgeon who had little to no education to perform cosmetic procedures before performing them on patients?

As always, send in your questions!

-Dr. D board certified plastic surgeon board certified plastic surgeon

* All information subject to change. Images may contain models. Individual results are not guaranteed and may vary.