This is an interesting question. The name of our specialty was derived from the Greek word “plastikos”, which means to shape or to form. Plastic Surgery, by definition, is surgery to repair, restore, or improve lost, injured, aged, defective, or misshapen body parts. What the lay person usually perceives as plastic surgery is usually related to cosmetic surgery. This is an integral part of the Plastic Surgery specialty, and some plastic surgeons specialize in cosmetic surgery, but other may specialize in other branches of the specialty such as taking care of birth defects, reconstructing body parts or repairing large holes resulting from cancer surgery or trauma, taking care of burn victims or doing hand surgery! It is true that implants are used for breasts, chins and other body parts, but most plastic surgical procedures rely on a reshaping or repositioning of your own tissues to achieve the desired result.
By definition, a plastic surgeon is one who does plastic surgery. But much confusion exists today because many physicians who call themselves plastic surgeons have not been trained in plastic surgery residencies, and indeed, some are not even surgeons! The American Board of Plastic Surgery is the only board recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties to certify a surgeon in plastic surgery of the face and entire body. Many doctors doing “plastic surgery” are indeed Board Certified but in specialties such as Otolaryngology (Ears Nose and Throat) or in Internal Medical specialties such as Dermatology. And because they do not have the training to be called Board Certified Plastic Surgeons, many have joined “Boards” such as the Cosmetic Surgery Board which are not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialists. Becoming a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon requires prerequisite training, a recognized plastic surgery residency, and successfully passing the rigorous examinations presented by the Board. In my own situation, I did a complete general surgery residency (with board certification in general surgery) at Columbia University in New York, followed by a plastic surgery residency at Harvard University in Massachusetts, board certification in plastic surgery, and a full time teaching position at the University of California, San Francisco, before venturing into private practice. Most people who drive a Mercedes do not take their vehicle to a Toyota mechanic for service. Likewise, if you are considering Plastic Surgery, we would suggest that you make sure the surgeon you are considering is indeed a plastic surgeon! If you are considering seeing a particular surgeon, you can always check the American Board of Plastic Surgery web site to see if your surgeon is Board Certified in Plastic Surgery – go ahead and give it a try and you’ll be amazed at how many doctors who represent themselves as plastic surgeons are indeed not plastic surgeons (https://www.abplsurg.org/ModDefault.aspx?section=PubFind )!
Here in California, I just do aesthetic surgery and the occasional reconstruction for a mastectomy defect or after a skin cancer resection. But I have operated for years in Guatemala and elsewhere doing pro bono volunteer work. Here are examples of the two extremes.