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

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Plastic surgery vs. general surgery 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. general surgery 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. General Surgery: 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.

General Surgery, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs general surgeons, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as plastic surgery. But general surgery 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 general surgeons earn less with an average of $412,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons earn $619,000 per year on average, while general surgeons earn less with $412,000 annually

Plastic Surgery vs. General Surgery: 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. Among US seniors, general surgery had an 18.4% unmatched rate, making it a highly competitive specialty. In comparison, plastic surgery was the most competitive residency in the 2022 Match, with a 37.3% unmatched rate among US Seniors.

General Surgery had an 18.4% unmatched rate, while plastic surgery had 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). General Surgery involves a five-year general surgery residency.

A general surgery 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. General Surgery: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Both plastic and general surgeons have demanding schedules and may work long hours in the operating room. However, plastic surgeons, particularly those working in private practice, have a more predictable work schedule and can take more time off. They can focus on performing elective surgeries which can lead to a more balanced work and personal life. In contrast, general surgeons who handle a wide range of surgeries, including emergencies, may have less predictable schedules and be required to be on-call duties at hospitals.

On average, plastic surgeons work 52.2 hours per week, ranking them in the middle among medical specialties. In comparison, general surgeons work an average of 57.4 hours per week, ranking them second among all medical specialties. Only intensivists have higher average weekly working hours than general surgeons.

Estimated Physician Weekly Working Hours by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons work an average of 52.2 hours per week, while general surgeons work more hours, at 57.4 per week.

Plastic surgeons spend 11 hours per week on administrative tasks such as documenting notes and taking photographs, while general surgeons spend more hours with an average of 15 hours per week.

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

A Plastic surgeon works on admin/paperwork an average of 11 hours per week, while general surgeons work more hours, at 15 per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between plastic surgery vs. general surgery. General Surgery 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. General Surgery: 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 general surgery. 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 general surgery.

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 general surgery ranked lower with 79% of general surgeons feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons reported a 97% job satisfaction rate, while general surgeons reported lower satisfaction with 79%

That being said, the burnout rate for plastic surgery was 46% which was near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, general surgery had a burnout rate of 51%, ranking in the middle of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons have a burnout rate of 46%, while general surgeons have a higher burnout rate of 51%.

Plastic Surgery vs. General Surgery Comparison

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

AspectPlastic SurgeryGeneral Surgery
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 wide range of conditions treated
Training PathTypically involves 5-6 years of plastic surgery residencyTypically involves 5 years of residency training

LifestyleGenerally predictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but may involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or burn cases
Varied; may involve on-call responsibilities, long working hours, and both outpatient and surgical procedures
Administrative PaperworkLow to Moderate documentation requirements for patient records and surgical plans High documentation requirements such as notes, test orders, and referral letters
Job SatisfactionGenerally high, satisfaction tied to successful surgeries and patient outcomesLower
Burnout RatesLow to Moderate, depending on the workload and stress associated with surgical proceduresHigh
PersonalityRequires creativity, precision, and good communication skills, attention to aestheticsGood hand-eye coordination, ability to handle stress and pressure

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. general surgery 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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