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Plastic Surgeon


Plastic surgery is the medical specialty dedicated to restoring and reshaping the human body. It encompasses both reconstructive surgery performed on abnormal structures of the body caused by birth defects, developmental problems, injuries, infection, tumors, or disease; and cosmetic surgery that reshapes or restores normal structures of the body intended to improve appearance and self-esteem. Emergency cases, such as facial lacerations, burns, trauma, and bite wounds, are also commonly treated by plastic surgeons.

Nose jobs, breast augmentations, liposuction and facelifts are a few of the surgeries performed for cosmetic purposes. Breast reductions, cleft lip and palates, laser surgery and lesion removal are examples of the reconstructive surgeries performed by plastic surgeons for medical reasons. Most reconstructive or trauma cases are operated on in necessary or emergency cases. For example, if someone was involved in a bad car accident and got glass wedged into their face, they would require the skills of a plastic surgeon to help reconstruct the face back to its original form.

In a consultation with a plastic surgeon, they will review a patient's medical history to evaluate any medical condition that might affect the surgical result. They explain the procedure, the risks involved, and the probability of success. The plastic surgeon will discuss the patient's expectations and goals, so that the desired outcome is realistic and can be achieved. For example, many women who seek breast enlargements are quite small boned, and must understand if there are medical implications involved or if the operation is not a good idea. Plastic surgeons encourage patients to bring a list of their own questions, as well as a note pad to jot down any information not included in literature the surgeon may provide.

Plastic surgeons use computer-imaging machines during consultations to show patients an estimate of the post-operative appearance. A photograph of the patient is transferred to a computer screen and then altered by the surgeon to approximate the post surgery result. However, the computer images are never fully accurate and are just used as a general visual idea of how the plastic surgery will look.

Plastic surgeons have to be creative as they are moulding and shaping skin into new forms. Since their work is very visible in its outcome, they must be meticulous and really try to understand what the patient wants. These days, most plastic surgeons specialize in a particular procedure or in either cosmetics or reconstructive surgery. For example, a plastic surgeon may be a nose job specialist or known for his or her abilities as a scar remover.

Plastic surgeons can work with almost every tissue in the human body, from the nerves to our skin, to muscles and fat. For example, they can perform skin grafts to replace cancer-damaged tissue on the ear with healthy tissue from the forehead or neck. Liposuction involves removing fat with a type of vacuum from areas of the body such as the neck, chin, abdomen, hips and thighs. They use laser surgery to remove wrinkles, scars and change skin pigmentation.

Many plastic surgeons work in teams with other plastic surgeons or in a group practice.
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  Interests and Skills  
Plastic surgeons are interested in helping people reconstruct various body parts along with cosmetically enhancing features. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Plastic surgeons need good hand-eye coordination, manual dexterity along with being visually creative and imaginative. They should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with patients about various plastic surgery operations
  • Perform cosmetic and reconstructive surgery on patients, such as liposuction and rhinoplasty
  • Treat post-operative patients and counsel them on healing techniques
  • Teach medical residency students
  • Plastic surgeons generally work 50 to 60 hours per week, including weekends, for some surgeons. They generally spend half of their time meeting with patients, doing consultations and the other half of their time in the operating room. They may travel back and forth between their clinic and the hospital. These days, an increased number of cosmetic operations are being performed in office-based surgical facilities on an outpatient basis.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Plastic surgeons commonly work in tandem with family practice physicians, general surgeons, pediatricians, oncologists, orthopedic surgeons, and neurosurgeons. Otherwise, they may work in their own private clinic or at a hospital. Some also work at universities or research institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
After the many years of school, training and residency that plastic surgeons must go through, chances are by the time they become professional surgeons, they will work in the field for a long time. Also, it may take years to build up a good client base, therefore they generally stay within this field. However, they can always learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs.

They may work as directors of research, public health educators, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. Plastic surgeons may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a plastic surgeon requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate studies. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Plastic surgeons complete four years of medical school and then complete a one- to two-year internship in general studies. After that, plastic surgeons will complete a four- or five-year residency training program at a hospital in general surgery followed by one or two years of extra plastic surgery training.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, health clinic, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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