How to pick a plastic surgeon


So… you think you need plastic surgery.

If you’re like today’s plastic surgery patient, you’ve already spent a considerable amount of time conferring with Dr. Google about your condition. Perhaps you’re newly diagnosed with breast cancer, you’ve been wanting a touch up after baby, or perhaps are looking to rejuvenate your face so you can look as long and vivacious as you feel.

Now you’re ready to make the appointment, but first you have to know who to call!

As we talked about previously, plastic surgery is a really broad field, so when choosing a plastic surgeon you’ll want to make sure the person has the specific skills that you are looking for. Let’s break down the training plastic surgeons go through and what that means for you as a patient.

There are two ways that a doctor may become a plastic surgeon. First, they must graduate from medical school. Then they can either complete a general surgery residency followed by a plastic surgery fellowship, or complete a plastic surgery residency. Either path provides the right training! Residency entails several years of intense surgical training in all aspects of plastic surgery. A plastic surgeon coming out of residency should be proficient to practice on their own.

If you’d like to select a plastic surgeon with extra training in a plastic surgery subspecialty such as cosmetic surgery, there are even more specialized fellowships out there. Fellowships are typically only open to those who have finished residency successfully. Fellowships allow surgeons to really zero in on their area of interest whether that be cosmetic, craniofacial, hand, or other subspecialties.

Does a plastic surgeon need a fellowship to practice competently? Well, it depends on the surgeon, but fellowship isn’t necessarily a requirement.

However, any surgeon you choose does NEED to have true plastic surgery training in the form of plastic surgery residency or general surgery residency plus plastic surgery fellowship.

This is important, because there are many folks out there calling themselves “Cosmetic Surgeons”. In truth, these doctors may be dermatologists, general surgeons, OB/GYNs, or others who have done a bit of extra training in cosmetic surgery and are doing cosmetic procedures for the revenue opportunity. They may be fully board certified in their specialty, but if they aren’t a true plastic surgeon, you may want to look elsewhere for your procedure.

Here are some specific qualifications to look for:

Graduation from an accredited plastic surgery residency or fellowship

If you’re looking for a cosmetic procedure, consider a plastic surgeon who has completed a cosmetic/aesthetic surgery fellowship.

If you need breast reconstruction, consider a plastic surgeon with a microsurgery fellowship, so that you have the most reconstructive options available (more on this in a later post).

If you need facial reconstruction, consider a plastic surgeon with a craniofacial fellowship. They have advanced training in the intricate 3D anatomy that comprises the face.

If you need hand surgery, consider a plastic surgeon who has completed a dedicated hand/upper extremity surgery fellowship.

Again, subspecialty fellowships may not be necessary to get top notch care, but it is something to consider when choosing your surgeon!



“Plastic surgery? Like, boob jobs and stuff?

view of operating room
Photo by Pixabay on

That is a direct quote from a former coworker of mine when I told her I was leaving emergency medicine to pursue plastic surgery. What do you think of when you hear the words “plastic surgery”? Chances are “boob jobs and stuff” isn’t far off. I’ll be honest, if you asked me what plastic surgery was all about a few years ago, I’d have probably told you the same thing. And hey, it isn’t wrong … but it sure isn’t comprehensive either!

Plastic surgery covers a very wide range of procedures, and plastic surgeons are exceptional, highly trained surgeons who operate on virtually every inch of the body. Let’s break down some of the sub-specialties of plastic surgery to give you an idea of just how broad this field is.

Cosmetics- everyone knows this one! Plastic surgeons specializing in cosmetic surgery focus on aesthetic improvement of the face and body. For the breast, popular procedures include breast augmentation, breast lifts, and breast reductions. They do the ever popular “mommy make over”, liposuction, tummy tucks, and body lifts. And of course, surgery to enhance the face with face lifts, rhinoplasty (nose surgery), blepharoplasty (eyelid surgery) and neck lifts. For those not ready to jump into surgery, there’s always Botox, fillers, lasers, and nonsurgical fat reduction methods.

Breast reconstruction- plastic surgeons who specialize in breast reconstruction are specialists in reconstructing the breast after breast cancer. They often have taken on additional training in microsurgery, using advanced techniques to reconstruct the breast using free flaps. They are also experts at implant based reconstruction.

Hand surgery- this one always surprises people! But believe it or not, many plastic surgeons also perform hand surgery. The hand is filled with tiny muscles, nerves, ligaments and tendons, which can be extremely challenging to repair. As plastic surgery is by nature delicate, intricate work, plastic surgeons are well suited to take on the incredible structure that is the hand. So, if you find yourself in the emergency room with a cut finger and you are referred to a plastic surgeon, it’s no mistake!

Craniofacial reconstruction- The face, much like the hand, is an intricate structure. The nerves, muscles, bone and soft tissue structure are what you—literally—face the world with. In many ways, your face is your personal brand. Plastic surgeons are often called up to reconstruct faces after injury whether that involves a complex laceration repair or surgery for facial fractures.

On the flip side, another aspect of craniofacial reconstruction is helping those with genetic abnormalities. Cleft lip and cleft palate is a common one, where a baby is born with the upper lip and top of the mouth split into two. There are many, many other birth defects that plastic surgeons can help repair while serving our littlest patients!

Other reconstruction- The human body has an incredible ability to heal. However, sometimes in cases of trauma, burns, infection, or another major issue, the body is just unable to heal the damage that has been done. In this case, plastic surgery may be called in to help. Blast injuries and car accidents may cause these types of injuries. Some examples include a burn patient who needs a skin graft, or a patient with major soft tissue loss who needs a large flap surgery. These patients are often times incredibly sick and their cases can be quite complex.

It is also worth mentioning that a plastic surgeon may do more than one of these types of surgery. It is not uncommon for a plastic surgeon with a cosmetic practice to take call from the emergency department for hand or facial injuries, or for a surgeon with a breast reconstruction practice to also do cosmetic surgery.  That being said, how do you go about choosing the best plastic surgeon for you? Stay tuned, because that’s coming up next!

Hi, I’m New Here

My name is Katy, and I’m a plastic surgery physician assistant. I hang my hat on a lot of other great things too. I’m a veteran of the United States Air Force. I’m a die-hard Notre Dame fan and proud alumni. I’m a Labrador mom to a 13-year-old dog named Nala who I’m probably out walking right now. I’m an occasional crafter, social gym goer, and am fueled by diet coke and coffee (with lots of vanilla creamer).  And, I love being a plastic surgery physician assistant.

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The faces behind Nip, Tuck, Reconstruct at the 2017 Bark Ball in Washington, DC

I got my start in this awesome field as a physician assistant fellow in plastic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic—completing this fellowship was the best professional choice I’ve ever made (okay 2nd best choice, after deciding to become a PA).  I’ve been training here for the year and have found my professional passion in plastic surgery and reconstruction of all types- whether that be after cancer, trauma, infection, or congenital malformation.

When patients are confronted with a disfiguring or life threatening condition, patients place their hope in a well-trained care team ready to restore them back to health. As a plastic surgery PA, I not only help facilitate healing after illness or injury, but also have the unique privilege of giving patients back the body they recognize in the mirror. I enjoy walking with patients down the road to recovery, not only back to health and function, but to the best aesthetic outcome possible.

My job consists of assisting in the operating room, consults and pre/post operative visits in the clinic, and seeing patients in the hospital. One delightful aspect of my job is patient education. Patients and their families always have questions, concerns, and fears going into surgery. I often have the privilege of addressing these concerns. However, over time, I realized that somehow despite the abundance of information out there, patients still leave our office confused and looking for more answers. Are you one of them? Stick with me, let’s figure out your journey together. Let’s talk all things plastic surgery, shall we?