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Plastic Surgery vs. Emergency Medicine: Which Specialty is Right for You?

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Plastic surgery vs. emergency medicine is one of the 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. emergency medicine 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. Emergency Medicine: 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.

Emergency medicine, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs emergency physicians, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as plastic surgery. But emergency medicine 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 emergency physicians earn less with an average of $352,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons have an average annual salary of $619,000, while emergency physicians earn less with $352,000.

Plastic Surgery vs. Emergency Medicine: 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 their preferred specialty. Emergency medicine had a 1.9% unmatched rate among US seniors, making it one of the least competitive with only pediatrics having a lower unmatched rate of 1.6%. In comparison, plastic surgery was the most competitive residency in the 2022 Match, with a 37.3% unmatched rate among US Seniors.

Training Path: Residency

Plastic surgery requires completing a five to six-year residency program accredited by the Residency Review Committee for Plastic Surgery (RRC-PS). Emergency medicine involves a three to four-year residency.

An emergency medicine residency 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. Emergency Medicine: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Plastic surgeons tend to have a better work-life balance as compared to emergency physicians. This is because plastic surgeons usually have a more predictable work schedule and can take more time off. On the other hand, emergency physicians have to work in shifts, including nights and weekends. They deal with unexpected emergencies, making their schedules less predictable.

On average, plastic surgeons work 52.2 hours per week, ranking in the middle of medical specialties, while emergency physicians work fewer hours with 44.4 hours, ranking near the lower end of all medical specialties.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons work an average of 52.2 hours per week, while emergency physicians work fewer hours, at 44.4 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, while emergency physicians work slightly more hours, at 13 hours per week.

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 emergency physicians work slightly more hours, at 13 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between plastic surgery vs. emergency medicine. Emergency medicine has a four-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. Emergency Medicine: 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 emergency medicine. 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 emergency medicine.

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  emergency medicine ranked lower with 74% of emergency physicians feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons reported the highest job satisfaction rate, while emergency physicians reported lower satisfaction with 74%

That being said, the burnout rate for plastic surgery was 46% which was near the lower end of all medical specialties. In contrast, emergency medicine had the highest burnout rate at 65%.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons have a burnout rate of 46%, while emergency physicians have a higher burnout rate of 65%.

Plastic Surgery vs. Emergency Medicine Comparison

To provide a visual overview, here’s a table comparing plastic surgery and emergency medicine:

AspectPlastic SurgeryEmergency Medicine
Average SalaryHigh income, especially in specialized areas like reconstructive or cosmetic surgeryVaried, but lower than plastic surgery
Job SecurityStable field with availability of both reconstructive and cosmetic proceduresHigh demand due to the necessity of uninterrupted emergency coverage
Training PathTypically involves 5-6 years of plastic surgery residencyTypically involves 3-4 years of emergency medicine residency.
LifestyleGenerally predictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but may involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or burn cases
Typically irregular and unpredictable working hours, with on-call duties and rotating shifts
Administrative PaperworkLow to Moderate documentation requirements for patient records and surgical plans Low to Moderate documentation requirements
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 and multitasking skills, ability to remain calm and focused in high-pressure situations

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. emergency medicine 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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