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Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Plastic surgery vs. critical care is one of the biggest debates among medical students interested in physiology. Both specialties allow you to explore the complex workings of the human body and use your skills to improve patient outcomes. However, they also have significant differences, such as the scope of practice, the work environment, and the training requirements.

How do you decide which one is right for you? In this article, we will provide helpful information and tips to help you make an intelligent decision on plastic surgery vs. critical care and find a fulfilling career that matches your interests and abilities. We will also help you evaluate practical factors such as job availability, salary, and training duration.

Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care: Salary and Job Security

Plastic surgery might be your specialty if you want to earn a lot of money and have a steady demand for your services. But be prepared for a competitive job market after fellowship, even if you graduate from a prestigious program.

Critical care, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs intensivists, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as plastic surgery. But critical care also comes with some challenges, such as higher burnout and less job security, which we will discuss later.

According to recent data, plastic surgeons have the highest average annual salary among medical specialties at $619,000, while intensivists earn less with an average of $406,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons earn $619,000 per year on average, while intensivists earn less with $406,000 annually

Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care: Competitiveness

Here we can assess the competitiveness of a specialty by looking at the unmatched rate – the % of people who apply and do not match into their preferred specialty. Plastic surgery was the most competitive residency in the 2022 Match, with a 37.3% unmatched rate among US Seniors.

Plastic surgery had a 37.3% unmatched rate among US seniors

To pursue a career in critical care, you must first match into an internal medicine residency. Among US Seniors, the unmatched percentage for internal medicine residency was only 2%, making it less competitive than other residencies. However, this does not mean that critical care is less competitive. After completing your internal medicine residency, you will still need to match into a fellowship, which is generally more competitive than matching into a residency. Only 85 US seniors applied to the critical care medicine fellowship, with a 35.3% unmatched percentage.

Training Path: Residency vs Fellowship

Plastic surgery requires completing a five to six-year residency program accredited by the Residency Review Committee for Plastic Surgery (RRC-PS). Critical care involves a three-year internal medicine residency, followed by a two-year critical care fellowship.

A critical care fellowship is typically less competitive than a plastic surgery residency. Your USMLE scores, med school, and research are the main things for residency applications. Research is also a big thing for fellowship applications, and your residency program counts more, but your USMLE scores matter much less.

Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Both plastic surgeons and intensivists have demanding schedules and on-call duties due to the nature of their work. However, it’s worth mentioning that intensivists are thought to be more easily replaced, as they don’t typically maintain a panel of patients like their plastic surgery counterparts.

Plastic surgeons often have demanding surgical schedules and may work long hours in the operating room. They may also be on-call for emergencies such as trauma or burn accidents.

Plastic surgeons work 52.2 hours per week on average, ranking near the middle of all medical specialties. Intensivists ranked at the top of medical specialties, averaging 57.7 weekly working hours.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons work an average of 52.2 hours per week, while intensivists work more hours, at 57.7 per week.

Plastic surgeons spend an estimated 11 hours per week on administrative paperwork tasks, such as documenting pre- and post-operative notes and taking photographs. In comparison, intensivists spend more hours, approximately 18 hours per week, due to extensive documentation requirements related to ICU admissions, daily progress notes, discharge summaries, and care coordination.

Estimated Physician Admin/Paperwork Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons work on admin/paperwork an average of 11 hours per week, while intensivists work more hours, at 18 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between plastic surgery vs. critical care. Critical care has a five-year training period, while plastic surgery has a minimum of five to six-year residency program.

After completing a plastic surgery residency program, some surgeons may choose to pursue additional fellowships to further specialize in a particular aspect of plastic surgery. This can increase the length of your plastic surgery training.

Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care: Job Satisfaction and Burnout Rates

Job satisfaction plays a significant role in career fulfillment. According to various studies, plastic surgery tends to have higher job satisfaction rates than critical care. Many plastic surgeons express contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance. Additionally, plastic surgery has lower reported burnout rates than critical care.

According to recent data, plastic surgery ranked at the upper end of all medical specialties with 97% of plastic surgeons stating that they would choose the same specialty again, while critical care ranked lower with 78% of intensivists feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons reported a 97% job satisfaction rate, while intensivists reported lower satisfaction with 78%

That being said, the burnout rate for plastic surgery was 46% which was near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, critical care had a burnout rate of 55%, ranking above the middle of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons have a burnout rate of 46%, while intensivists have a higher burnout rate of 55%.

Plastic Surgery vs. Critical Care Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing plastic surgery and critical care:

AspectPlastic SurgeryCritical Care
Average SalaryHigh income, especially in specialized areas like reconstructive or cosmetic surgeryLower than plastic surgery
Job SecurityStable field with availability of both reconstructive and cosmetic proceduresHigh demand due to the need for specialized care in critical care units
Training PathTypically involves 5-6 years of plastic surgery residencyTypically involves 3 years of internal medicine residency followed by a 2-3 year critical care fellowship
LifestyleGenerally predictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but may involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or burn cases
Demanding; involves long and irregular hours, including nights and weekends
Administrative PaperworkLow to Moderate documentation requirements for patient records and surgical plans Higher documentation requirements due to extensive documentation requirements related to ICU admissions, daily progress notes
Job SatisfactionGenerally high, satisfaction tied to successful surgeries and patient outcomesLower
Burnout RatesLow to Moderate, depending on the workload and stress associated with surgical proceduresHigher
PersonalityRequires creativity, precision, and good communication skills, attention to aestheticsStrong decision-making skills, ability to handle stress and pressure, good communication skills

Please note that this table serves as a general comparison. To determine the most suitable career for you, consider your personal and career priorities and goals.

Concluding Thoughts

Choosing the right specialty between plastic surgery vs. critical care depends heavily on your priorities. To determine this, try reverse engineering your ideal life and identify your top priority. A helpful exercise is to write down the top five things you want to achieve in your career and personal life. Knowing these priorities will make finding a career that aligns with them easier. Often, the biggest obstacle is not a lack of knowledge about different fields but a lack of self-awareness about our own preferences.

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.

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