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

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by Yousmle Staff in Career

Plastic surgery vs. pathology 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. pathology 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. Pathology: 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.

Pathology, meanwhile, offers more job openings. You can easily find a hospital that needs pathologists, and the career outlook is positive, even if the salary is not as high as plastic surgery. But pathology also comes with some challenges, such as 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 pathologists earn less with an average of $339,000.

Estimated Physician Average Yearly Salary by Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons earn $619,000 per year on average, while pathologists earn less with $339,000 annually

Plastic Surgery vs. Pathology: 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, pathology had a 2.6% unmatched rate, making it less competitive. In comparison, plastic surgery was the most competitive residency in the 2022 Match, with a 37.3% unmatched rate among US Seniors.

Pathology had a 2.6% unmatched rate, while plastic surgery had a 37.3% unmatched rate among US seniors

Training Path: Residency

Plastic surgery residency requires completion of a five to six-year residency program accredited by the Residency Review Committee for Plastic Surgery (RRC-PS). Pathology involves a three to four-year pathology residency.

A pathology 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. Pathology: Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a crucial factor for many medical professionals. Pathologists often enjoy a better work-life balance due to the nature of their work. They usually have predetermined working hours, leading to more predictable schedules. However, it’s worth mentioning that this also means pathologists 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.

On average, plastic surgeons work 52.2 hours per week, ranking in the middle of medical specialties. Pathologists, on the other hand, work an average of 48.2 hours per week, ranking near the middle 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 pathologists work slightly fewer hours, at 48.2 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. The estimated physician admin/paperwork hours were not provided for pathology, but you can see estimated paperwork hours for other specialties below.

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

Plastic surgeons work on admin/paperwork an average of 11 hours per week.

Training Duration and Subspecialties

The training duration is a key aspect to consider when choosing between plastic surgery vs. pathology. Pathology has a three to 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. Pathology: 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 pathology. Many plastic surgeons express contentment with their career choice and would choose it again if given the chance. However, plastic surgery has higher reported burnout rates than pathology.

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 pathology ranked lower with 81% of pathologists feeling the same way.

Job Satisfaction Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons reported a 97% job satisfaction rate, while pathologists reported lower satisfaction with 81%

That being said, the burnout rate for plastic surgery was 46% which was near the lower end of all medical specialties. In comparison, pathology had a burnout rate of 39%, ranking in the lower end of all medical specialties.

Burnout Rate By Medical Specialty in the US

Plastic surgeons have a burnout rate of 46%, while pathologists have a lower burnout rate of 39%.

Plastic Surgery vs. Pathology Comparison

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

AspectPlastic SurgeryPathology
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 increasing demand for diagnostic and molecular testing
Training PathTypically involves 5-6 years of plastic surgery residencyTypically involves 3-4 years of pathology residency


LifestyleGenerally predictable work schedule and increased opportunities for time off, but may involve on-call responsibilities for trauma or burn cases
Less patient contact, more lab-based work, regular hours
Administrative PaperworkLow to Moderate documentation requirements for patient records and surgical plans High documentation requirements for specimen analysis, diagnoses, and treatment recommendations
Job SatisfactionGenerally high, satisfaction tied to successful surgeries and patient outcomesLower
Burnout RatesLow to Moderate, depending on the workload and stress associated with surgical proceduresLower
PersonalityRequires creativity, precision, and good communication skills, attention to aestheticsStrong problem-solving skills, attention to detail, and ability to handle large volumes of complex data and information

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. pathology 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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