Overview of Plastic Surgery

What is plastic surgery?

It is a common misunderstanding that the word plastic in plastic surgery means artificial. Rather, the word originated 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 due to 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, but not limited to, the following:

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

  • Maxillofacial (the facial skeleton)

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

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Doctors who perform plastic surgery

It is 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--usually 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 the following:

    • 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.

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