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How to Become a Plastic Surgeon in 2023

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by Yousmle Staff in Residency

Do you want to know how to become a plastic surgeon? Are you interested in a medical career that provides not only patient care but also offers unique opportunities for medical research and a chance to be on the cutting edge of modern medicine?

if so, a plastic surgery career may be the perfect choice for you. In this blog post, I will explain what a plastic surgeon does and how to become one, even if you’re only in high school.


  • Plastic surgeons specialize in the reconstruction, replacement, or repair of the form or function of skin, tissue, or bone.
  • Plastic surgery residency is six to eight years with the option of fellowship training afterward.
  • Going to a top medical school may help a bit. However, how you do on your USMLEs (Board) scores and in your med school class ranking will matter more.
  • Non-PhD degrees like MBAs and MPHs have no advantage in becoming a plastic surgeon(and maybe a disadvantage)

Table of Contents

What Are Plastic Surgeons?.

Plastic surgeons specialize in performing cosmetic and reconstructive surgery procedures. They work to reshape and improve the appearance of their patients by altering their features and body parts. Some of the reconstructive procedures include those for birth defects and burn treatments. Cosmetic procedures may include breast augmentation, body contouring, and facelifts.
Plastic surgeons have to understand the balance between science and the art of medicine. They also have to consider the psychology of the patient when it comes to their expectations. Plastic surgeons must also recognize and understand the anatomical, physiological, and pathological conditions of the patient before making a surgical plan.

Is a Plastic Surgeon a Doctor?

Are plastic surgeons doctors? The answer to this question is yes; plastic surgeons are doctors.

A plastic surgeon is a specialized physician who has completed medical school, usually followed by six to eight years of plastic surgery residency training. During residency, doctors gain hands-on experience in the performance of reconstructive surgery and cosmetic surgery.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Plastic Surgeon?

Plastic surgery is among the most competitive specialties. You’ll need lots of dedication and hard work through this journey. It takes considerable time and energy to become a plastic surgeon. But the results can be gratifying if you’re up to the challenge.

It’ll take you at least 14 years after high school to become a plastic surgeon. Four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school, and six to eight years of plastic surgery residency. Along the way, you’ll have to work your tail off and excel in your exams. You’ll have to ace your SAT, the MCAT, and USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK. DOs will have to pass the COMLEX-US Step 1 and Step 2.

Undergraduate (4 Years)

The first step to becoming a plastic surgeon is entering and completing an undergraduate program. This means taking the SATs and doing well enough to be accepted into a college or university. Once accepted into an undergraduate program, you’ll have to complete a minimum of four years of academic coursework. This includes classes in biology, chemistry, physics, English, and other general education courses.

Medical School (4 Years)

The next step is to take the MCAT, a standardized exam that measures your knowledge and skills in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology. You’ll need to score well on the MCAT for med school acceptance.

You’ll have to complete four years of academic and clinical training during medical school. This includes classes in anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, and other medical topics. You’ll also have to complete clinical rotations at hospitals and other healthcare facilities to gain hands-on experience.

Plastic Surgery Residency (6-8 Years)

After medical school, you’ll need to match into a plastic surgery residency. To do this, you’ll need stellar scores in your USMLE Step 1 and Step 2 CK exams. These exams measure your knowledge and skills in the areas of clinical medicine. Once you’ve passed these exams, you’ll be eligible to apply for residency.

Plastic surgery residency is usually six to eight years. Six years if you match into an integrated residency. The first three years are in general surgery and the rest is in plastic surgery.

The residency will be eight years if you match into an independent residency. The first five years in general surgery and the remaining three years in plastic surgery. During plastic surgery residency, doctors learn a wide array of reconstructive and cosmetic surgery modalities.

Fellowship (Optional; Usually 1 Year)

After residency, you may specialize in a given area of plastic surgery. Plastic surgery fellowships allow physicians to gain subspecialty expertise. Fellowship choices include aesthetic surgery, microvascular reconstructive surgery, body contouring, craniofacial surgery, and hand surgery. Most plastic surgery fellowships are one year in length, allowing physicians to gain additional experience and hone their skills in a specific area of plastic surgery.

After Plastic Surgery Residency: Licensing + Board Certification

Upon completing your residency, you’ll be eligible to apply for a medical license, a requirement for practice. You’ll also be able to take the Plastic Surgery Board Exam to become board-certified. While passing the plastic surgery boards is voluntary, many employers find it necessary.

Becoming a plastic surgeon takes at least 14 years after high school. It’s a long and arduous process, but if you’re dedicated and passionate, the rewards are worth it.

How Competitive is it to Become a Plastic Surgeon?

Plastic surgery is among the most competitive specialty. Each year, thousands of hopeful medical school graduates apply for a limited number of positions in their preferred specialty. The Match system, run by the National Resident Match Program (NRMP), pairs applicants with training programs based on their preferences.

But how competitive is plastic surgery in the US? To answer this question, we need to look at the unmatched rates of US seniors by specialty. The unmatched rate refers to the percentage of US seniors who applied for a residency program in a specialty but did not get matched. It only considers each applicant’s first-choice specialty. So, if you applied to a specialty as a “backup” but didn’t match because you matched your first choice, this wouldn’t count. To learn more about how to maximize your chances at a dream residency through “The Match,” see this article.

In the 2022 Match, graduating US medical school seniors attending MD schools had a 37.3% unmatched rate to plastic surgery. This makes it the most competitive specialty.

For more on the competitiveness of plastic surgery relative to other medical specialties, see this article.

Plastic Surgery Annual Compensation

Plastic surgeons are among the best-paid doctors. They have an average annual salary of $576,000. This will vary with practice setting, specialty training, and experience level.

Plastic Surgeon Annual Salary

Plastic Surgeons make $576,000 per year on average

How Much Do Plastic Surgeons Make an Hour?

You may also wonder how much plastic surgeons make per hour. And how is the balance between time inside vs. outside the hospital for the specialty?

While there isn’t perfect data, we’ve compiled data re: hours/weeks worked and annual salary for various specialties, including plastic surgery.

Here are the data:

Average Annual SalaryAverage Hourly SalaryOn-Call ScheduleHours/WeekAvg Weeks Worked/Year
Critical Care$369,000.00$114.9166.9
Diagnostic Radiology$437,000.00$170.46Low5844.2
Emergency Medicine$373,000.00$169.59Medium46.447.4
Family Medicine$255,000.00$101.85Medium52.647.6
General Surgery$402,000.00$141.88High59.447.7
Infectious Diseases$260,000.00$101.44High53.4
Internal Medicine$264,000.00$100.81Medium54.947.7
Interventional Radiology$437,000.00
Neurological Surgery (Assistant Prof. Median)$600,500.00$214.96Medium58.2
Obstetrics and Gynecology$336,000.00$123.26Medium5847
Orthopaedic Surgery$557,000.00$207.91Medium5747
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation$322,000.00$147.7645.4
Plastic Surgery$576,000.00$230.77Medium52
Pulmonary Med$353,000.00$119.77Medium61.4
Radiation Oncology (Assistant Prof. Median)$393,734.00$158.36Low51.8
Total Average$381,233.35$147.4453.9

And the estimated physician salary per hour by specialty (plastic surgery highlighted in red):

Plastic Surgeon Hourly Salary

Plastic Surgeons make $230 an hour on average

Note: when data were unavailable for weeks worked per year, 48 weeks was the estimate to calculate the estimated hourly salary.

Getting AOA (Med School Honors) Helps in Becoming a Plastic Surgeon

Medical school is one of the most challenging aspects of becoming a doctor. Many medical schools have established Alpha Omega Alpha (AOA) branches to recognize top students.

AOA is the medical school honors society for students who excel in their studies. They must also show an exemplary commitment to professionalism and leadership. Medical schools may elect up to 20% of their graduating classes to become members of AOA.

Induction into AOA is a prestigious honor that carries with it a variety of benefits. AOA members may be eligible for special scholarships and fellowships. Members can often receive priority consideration for residency positions.

The AOA advantage is notable for the most competitive fields and residency programs. The 2022 Match data showed that the match rate for US medical school seniors with AOA membership was 26% greater than that of US seniors without AOA membership in plastic surgery. AOA membership provides a significant advantage in matching into plastic surgery residency programs.


AOA Membership Advantage for Plastic Surgery 2022

AOA membership correlated with a 26% match rate advantage for Plastic Surgery in the 2022 Match

See this article for more on AOA medical schools and the importance of class rank for matching.

Do You Need to Attend a Top School to Become a Plastic Surgeon?

When pursuing a career in plastic surgery, attending a top medical school can make a difference. According to a survey of program directors, over half of those surveyed reported considering applicants’ med school reputation when considering whom to interview, giving it an importance score of 3.6 out of 5.

Moreover, graduating from a school in the top 40 for NIH funding shows an 8% increase in the likelihood of matching into plastic surgery as a field. This is because top medical schools have more resources and access to clinical experience, which can help prepare students for the rigors of the specialty.

That said, it is important to remember that the name of the school alone does not guarantee success in any field. While attending a top medical school may have advantages, it is up to the individual to make the most of the opportunities presented. And while there is an advantage to being from a more prestigious institution, one’s record at the school will matter much more, including things like USMLE scores, class rank, and letters of recommendation.

Top 40 med school Plastic Surgery match 2022

Graduating from a medical school ranked in the top 40 by NIH funding correlated with an 8% match rate advantage for Plastic Surgery in the 2022 Match

Does an MPH or MBA Help You Become a Plastic Surgeon?

Medical training is long and arduous. Many students consider completing other degrees before, after, or even while pursuing their medical studies. Degrees such as Master of Public Health (MPH) and Master of Business Administration (MBA) may seem attractive to potential plastic surgery residents due to their additional qualifications. But do these degrees give applicants an edge in the residency application process?

Having an additional degree may not matter as much as one thinks. We crunched the numbers on the match rate for graduating students from MD schools for those with non-PhD other degrees vs. those that did not have a second degree. In plastic surgery, the match rate was 11% lower for those with degrees like an MPH or MBA. This implies that having a second degree that isn’t a Ph.D. doesn’t appear to help your chances of matching into plastic surgery and may even hurt them.

Plastic Surgery other degree MBA MPH advantage 2022

Having another degree like an MBA or MPH correlated with a -11% match rate disadvantage for Plastic Surgery in the 2022 Match

It’s important to note that this study only looked at the overall match rates of medical students with another degree. The data doesn’t look at the type of degree, the school, and the quality of the applicant’s experience and credentials.

Having a second degree could open up some career opportunities. For instance, having an MPH or MBA may prove beneficial for those looking to go into healthcare administration or research.

Concluding Thoughts

Becoming a plastic surgeon is a challenging but rewarding career path. It is perfect for those who love anatomy, are decisive, and enjoy working as part of a team in intense situations. Restoring original aspects of a patient’s original appearance is among the most rewarding experiences you will have as a plastic surgeon. With hard work, dedication, and a desire to help others, plastic surgeons can make a real difference in the world of healthcare

Looking for a Plastic Surgery Residency Advisor?

Looking for a plastic surgery residency advisor? Want help writing your personal statement? Need effective strategies for interviewing? Do you have things on your application – e.g., low USMLE scores, failed USMLEs, no research, IMG status, or others – you need help overcoming?

Be sure to check out our Residency Advisor service.








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Want FREE Cardiology Flashcards?

Cardiology is key for impressive USMLE scores. Master cardiology from a Harvard-trained anesthesiologist who scored USMLE 270 with these 130+ high-yield flash cards. You’ll be begging for cardio questions - even if vitals make you queasy.