Difference Between Plastic Surgeons and Cosmetic Surgeons?
The terms “cosmetic surgeon” and “plastic surgeon” have often been used interchangeably to describe the field of medicine that deals with the reconstruction or enhancement of areas on the body, either following an injury, a natural birth defect, or for cosmetic reasons. But despite the frequent use of both these terms to refer to the same type of physician, are cosmetic surgeons and plastic surgeons the same, or is there a significant difference in profession? The Philippine Association of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgeons (PAPRAS) has addressed the topic and hopes to finally put an end to the cosmetic vs. plastic debate.
According to the PAPRAS, there is, in fact, a difference between cosmetic and plastic surgeons.
“Plastic surgeons specialize in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. When I reconstruct a burn patient’s face, there is a cosmetic angle to it,” said Dr. Carlos Lasa, president of the PAPRAS.
Dr. Lasa went on to explain that plastic surgeons undergo rigorous training, much more so than cosmetic surgeons, which not many aspiring surgeons are willing to do. In order to become a plastic surgeon in the Philippines, a physician in training needs to study three years of general surgery, then another five years of plastic and reconstructive surgery for a total of eight years on top of their medical degree.
For a cosmetic surgery degree, aspiring doctors need only obtain a certification course, which can be sought abroad. For Dr. Lasa, and several other plastic surgeons affiliated with PAPRAS, this is just akin to taking the easy way out.
“Some doctors would take short cuts,” explained Dr. JJ Cruz, VP of PAPRAS. “That’s where the problem lies. We’re not saying we’re free of complications. We are board certified plastic surgeons. We underwent full rigorous training and we are members of the Philippine Board of Plastic Surgery.”
In the Philippines, this distinction is often blurred, with patients unknowingly turning to cosmetic surgeons for complex procedures, when they should be turning to board certified plastic surgeons instead, who are highly specialized in their field. As a result, Philippine patients are experiencing complications with their surgeries because their cosmetic doctors are not as experienced nor as trained as actual plastic surgeons.
PAPRAS is now pushing the nation’s government to regulate the matter so actual plastic surgeons can be recognized as specialists in their field, making it easier for potential patients to seek out a top doctor whom they can trust will protect their health and yield optimal results.
As it stands, Philippines’ old Medical Act of 1959 allows any doctor who passes the board exams to perform any kind of surgery in the country, even if they don’t have sufficient training. Consequently, there are doctors who may have studied one area of medicine, such as optometry, performing plastic surgery procedures without a single clue on what to do.
Dr. Florencio Lucero, former PAPRAS president and now national secretary of the international society of aesthetic plastic surgery (ISAPS), reiterated that cosmetic surgery is not a specialty in the Philippines.
In the United States, there is also a distinction between cosmetic and plastic surgery. Cosmetic surgery can be practiced by doctors from a variety of medical fields. In fact, there are no residency programs in the U.S. devoted exclusively to cosmetic surgery.
It’s important for prospective patients to understand this and seek the expertise of an actual board certified plastic surgeon for all their cosmetic and reconstructive needs, to ensure the best outcome for their treatment.