The field of plastic surgery is a varied and rewarding technique-based specialty which can make a visible, tangible difference in the lives of children and adults. From treating burns to breast reconstruction to rhinoplasty and repairing cleft lip and palate, there are dozens of treatments and procedures in which one can specialize and qualified plastic surgeons work for the NHS as well as in private practice.
Up to 80% of the workload in this industry is reconstructive despite misconceptions that plastic surgery is a predominantly cosmetic field.
Plastic surgeons operate on all parts of the body, head to toe, and collaborate with people from many other specialties including:
- Maxillofacial surgery; and
- Breast surgery.
There are many pros and cons to joining the plastic surgery field or advanced aesthetics medical training. While it is a rewarding profession with many opportunities to transform patients’ lives, it is also highly competitive and receives limited funding. Despite the fact that other medical careers may be easier to pursue, many more trainees apply each year than there are spaces. Additional job perks include:
- A varied caseload with surgical procedures not limited to one body part or group of people;
- A wide range of subspecialties;
- Opportunities to work all over the world; and
- Being part of a fast-moving, technologically advanced career path.
The Training Pathway
Plastic surgery is an extremely popular career choice for medical students and entry to each surgical training stage is done through a highly competitive selection process. After finishing medical school, trainees will spend the next two years in a foundation program where they will gain experience in a variety of specialties and healthcare settings. By the time this foundation program has been completed, students will have acquired their full registration with the General Medical Council.
Next, trainees can apply for two years of core surgical training which consists of a variety of 4-6 month placements in different subspecialties. Once complete, trainees can apply for their chosen subspecialty through a competitive national selection process which is held twice a year and is often oversubscribed. In March 2009, for example, there were 145 applicants competing for only nine placements.
Successful applicants will have obtained a membership in the Royal College of Surgeons and spent a minimum of six months in plastic surgery posts. Next, they go on to do six years of specific plastic surgery training after which they must pass an intercollegiate specialty examination.
Once surgeons have obtained a certificate proving their successful completion of this training they are eligible for inclusion on the General Medical Council’s specialist register and they are able to apply for consultant posts. Many trainees also opt to complete a cosmetic fellowship after they receive their certificate.
Depending on their specific training pathway, a plastic surgeon can expect to qualify in their early to mid-30s.
The following qualities are highly desirable in plastic surgeons and may help you beat the competition:
- A good eye for aesthetics and attention to detail;
- Meticulous technique;
- Good time management and organizational skills;
- An ability to handle stressful situations and remain calm under pressure;
- Strong work ethic;
- Ability to balance extremely varied workload;
- Achievements and accolades in relevant academic research; and
- An ability to foster good working relationships as part of multidisciplinary team.
The Life of a Trainee
Extremely varied, the life of a trainee will include four to five operating sessions per week as well as one or two outpatient clinic placements. They will need to complete ward visits to monitor the progress of their patients and, as they develop, will begin to perform administrative and management tasks. The most common procedures they will assist with during their training are:
- Hand operations;
- Skin cancer procedures;
- Breast reconstruction;
- Head and neck reconstruction;
- Treatment for cleft lip and palate; and
- Burn surgery.
Emergency training will also play an important and core role in the life of a plastic surgery trainee and much of their workload will involve dealing with urgent cases.
Plastic Surgery Procedures
Once their training is complete, plastic surgeons may work in a hospital or private practice depending on their subspecialty. Procedures that fall under the plastic surgery heading are varied and include both cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries such as:
- Breast surgery: both reconstructive and cosmetic;
- Burn treatment;
- Skin cancer excision and reconstruction;
- Microsurgery for bone and soft tissue reconstruction;
- Cutaneous laser surgery;
- Soft tissue sarcoma;
- Head and neck reconstruction after oral or aero-digestive tract cancers;
- Facial reanimation;
- Cleft lip and palate correction;
- Lower limb trauma reconstruction; and
- Aesthetic or cosmetic surgeries.
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EmmaWilliam is a consultant plastic surgeon in Canada whose private practice is largely dedicated to cosmetic surgical procedures like breast reconstruction and tummy tuck. Now on researching in other areas of plastic surgery, I feel that each surgery must be individualized to each person’s unique situation. I love to make people feel more confident about themselves and their bodies. Besides work, I love to swim, bike and dance in my spare time,and also spend a lot of quality time with my kitty Lovy!