Why is it called “Plastic Surgery”? I don’t want to look plastic!

Why is it called “Plastic Surgery”? I don’t want to look plastic!

Many people have misconceptions about the term “plastic surgery”, associating it with the plastic material we know in everyday life. Learn more about the history of plastic surgery, how we are trained, and more.


The History of Plastic Surgery

The English word “plastic” comes from the Greek word “plastikos” which refers to modeling or sculpting like an artist. Plastic surgery began in India around 800 BC, with physicians reconstructing noses using flaps of tissue from the forehead. Ancient Egyptians and Romans also used early plastic surgery techniques to restore the ears or lips in cases of birth defects or injury. In the 1500s, Sicilian surgeon Gaspare Tagliacozzi used tissue from the arm to reconstruct noses. While this type of flap is mostly of historical interest, we are still taught in residency about the “Tagliacozzi flap” and its contribution to modern plastic surgery.

The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) first began certifying plastic surgeons in the ‘30s and ‘40s after its establishment in 1937. By 1941, the American Board of Medical Specialties recognized the ABPS as a member specialty. The establishment of the ABPS was well before the use of plastic household items, meaning that the word had no association with this material until years later.

The Two Main Categories of Plastic Surgery

Plastic surgery is generally categorized into two main types of procedures: reconstructive and aesthetic or cosmetic. Many procedures, however, can serve both purposes. And most plastic surgeons still do both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Generally speaking, a reconstructive plastic surgery procedure will correct a functional issue caused by a birth defect, injury, or illness. A breast reconstruction  or a cleft lip repair are good examples of a common reconstructive procedures. Cosmetic or aesthetic procedures are intended to improve or change the way a person looks. Think of a breast augmentation for a patient who wants to improve symmetry or proportion.

In some cases, a procedure might serve both functional and cosmetic purposes. A blepharoplasty, for example, can both improve vision when the upper eyelids sag and create a more youthful look. We’ll discuss the functional and aesthetic benefits of each procedure at your consultation.

How Are Plastic Surgeons Educated and Trained?

Plastic surgeons attend 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of medical school, then 6-9 years of surgery residency. In the past, we were required to do a full 5-7 years of General Surgery training before specializing in Plastic Surgery for 2 years. In the late 90’s and into the 2000’s, the scope of Plastic Surgery had become so broad that two years of Plastic Surgery was not enough anymore. Residency programs began to offer “Integrated“  6-year Plastic Surgery programs where the General Surgery basics were taught, but residents had more exposure to Plastic Surgery throughout the 6 years of training. After 6 years of residency, many young surgeons seek additional training in specialized fields such as reconstructive microsurgery. After this advanced training, we can become eligible to apply for certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. We take a written exam upon completion of residency, then an Oral Exam after about 2 years of practice before we are fully certified. It’s a very long process, but it ensures safety once a young surgeon is practicing independently.

I went to undergraduate and medical school at Dartmouth, followed by a six-year residency at the University of Cincinnati and a mini-fellowship in cosmetic surgery in Miami. I am Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and now serve as an examiner for the board’s oral exam for new plastic surgeons. In addition to this certification, I am also an active member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. Certification and education matter, and patient safety is my top goal.

Request a Consultation

To learn more about my credentials and experience, request a consultation. We can review any questions you might have about a procedure that interests you or plastic surgery in general. To request your appointment, call (802) 231-4284 or contact our office online.