CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a plastic surgeon.

Step 1

Is becoming a plastic surgeon right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do plastic surgeons do?
Career Satisfaction
Are plastic surgeons happy with their careers?

Still unsure if becoming a plastic surgeon is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a plastic surgeon or another similar career!

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Step 2

High School

Aspiring plastic surgeons should focus on taking a well-rounded and challenging course load in high school that prepares them for the rigorous academic requirements of medical school and beyond. Here are some recommended high school courses for students interested in pursuing a career in plastic surgery:

  • Biology: A strong foundation in biology is essential for understanding the structure and function of the human body, including anatomy, physiology, genetics, and cellular biology. Plastic surgeons must have a deep understanding of biological processes to perform surgical procedures and provide patient care.
  • Chemistry: Chemistry provides the fundamental principles underlying biological processes and is a prerequisite for many college-level science courses. Focus on both general chemistry and organic chemistry to develop a strong understanding of chemical concepts relevant to medicine and surgery.
  • Physics: Physics principles are important in understanding how the body interacts with physical forces and energy, particularly in fields such as biomechanics and medical imaging. Topics such as mechanics, electricity, and optics are relevant to plastic surgery and surgical techniques.
  • Mathematics: A solid foundation in mathematics, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus, is essential for success in science and medical courses. Mathematics skills are used in various aspects of medical research, data analysis, and problem-solving.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: If available, consider taking courses in anatomy and physiology to gain a deeper understanding of the structure and function of the human body. These courses can provide valuable insights into the musculoskeletal system, circulatory system, and other anatomical structures relevant to plastic surgery.
  • English and Writing: Strong communication skills are essential for success in medical school and beyond. Take English and writing courses to improve your written and verbal communication skills, critical thinking, and ability to convey complex ideas effectively.
  • Extracurricular Activities: Participate in extracurricular activities related to science, medicine, research, or healthcare to gain practical experience and demonstrate your commitment to the field. Volunteer work, internships, shadowing experiences, and involvement in science clubs or competitions can strengthen your college applications and provide valuable insights into the medical profession.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

Becoming a plastic surgeon requires a significant amount of formal education and training. Here are the steps typically involved in pursuing this career path:

  • Complete a Bachelor's Degree: Before applying to medical school, aspiring plastic surgeons must complete a bachelor's degree. Although there is no specific major required for admission to medical school, most students major in a pre-med field such as biology, chemistry, or biochemistry. Students should focus on maintaining a high GPA and taking courses that will prepare them for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test).
  • Attend Medical School: After completing a bachelor's degree, students must attend medical school to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO) degree. Medical school typically takes four years to complete and involves both classroom instruction and clinical rotations. During medical school, students learn the fundamentals of medicine and receive training in a variety of medical specialties.
  • Complete Residency Training: After graduating from medical school, aspiring plastic surgeons must complete a residency program in plastic surgery. Residency programs in plastic surgery typically last six to seven years and provide hands-on training in a variety of plastic surgery procedures. During residency, students work under the supervision of experienced plastic surgeons and gain practical experience in the field.
  • Pursue Fellowship Training (Optional): After completing residency training, some plastic surgeons choose to pursue additional fellowship training in a specific area of plastic surgery, such as hand surgery or microsurgery. Fellowship programs typically last one to two years and provide specialized training in a particular area of plastic surgery.
  • Obtain a License: After completing residency training, plastic surgeons must obtain a license to practice medicine in their state. Licensing requirements vary by state but typically involve passing a licensing exam and meeting certain educational and training requirements.
Step 4


The following are just a few examples of the many fellowship opportunities available for plastic surgeons. Fellowship training typically lasts one to two years and provides fellows with intensive, hands-on experience in their chosen subspecialty under the guidance of experienced faculty mentors. Fellowship training enhances plastic surgeons' expertise and prepares them for leadership roles in academic medicine, clinical practice, and research.

  • Cosmetic Surgery Fellowship: Cosmetic surgery fellowships focus on advanced training in aesthetic procedures, including breast augmentation, rhinoplasty, facelifts, body contouring, and non-surgical cosmetic treatments. Fellows gain hands-on experience in both surgical and non-surgical cosmetic procedures under the guidance of experienced cosmetic surgeons.
  • Reconstructive Surgery Fellowship: Reconstructive surgery fellowships provide advanced training in complex reconstructive procedures for patients with congenital anomalies, trauma, cancer, and other acquired deformities. Fellows gain expertise in microsurgical techniques, tissue transfer, flap reconstruction, and other reconstructive modalities to restore form and function.
  • Hand Surgery Fellowship: Hand surgery fellowships focus on the surgical treatment of hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions. Fellows gain specialized training in hand trauma, peripheral nerve repair, tendon reconstruction, microvascular surgery, and congenital hand anomalies.
  • Microsurgery Fellowship: Microsurgery fellowships offer advanced training in microsurgical techniques for tissue transfer, replantation, and reconstruction. Fellows gain expertise in performing complex microvascular procedures, including free tissue transfer, vascularized composite allotransplantation (VCA), and lymphaticovenous anastomosis (LVA).
  • Craniofacial Surgery Fellowship: Craniofacial surgery fellowships focus on the surgical treatment of congenital and acquired deformities of the skull, face, and jaws. Fellows gain specialized training in craniofacial reconstruction, cleft lip and palate repair, orthognathic surgery, and facial aesthetic surgery.
  • Burn Surgery Fellowship: Burn surgery fellowships provide specialized training in the management of burn injuries, including acute burn care, wound debridement, skin grafting, and scar reconstruction. Fellows gain experience in burn resuscitation, wound management, and multidisciplinary burn care.
  • Pediatric Plastic Surgery Fellowship: Pediatric plastic surgery fellowships focus on the surgical treatment of pediatric patients with congenital anomalies, craniofacial deformities, and complex reconstructive needs. Fellows gain expertise in pediatric plastic surgery procedures, including cleft lip and palate repair, craniosynostosis correction, and pediatric hand surgery.
Step 5

Board Certification

Plastic surgeons can pursue board certification through the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS), which is the primary certifying body for the specialty. Board certification through the ABPS is a rigorous process that requires plastic surgeons to demonstrate their expertise through written and oral examinations, as well as ongoing participation in continuing medical education (CME) activities to maintain certification. Board-certified plastic surgeons are recognized as leaders in the field and are held to high standards of clinical excellence and ethical practice.

The ABPS offers the following board certifications for plastic surgeons:

  • Certification in Plastic Surgery: Plastic surgeons who have completed an accredited residency program in plastic surgery are eligible to apply for certification through the ABPS. The certification process includes passing written and oral examinations that assess the surgeon's knowledge, clinical judgment, and technical skills in the field of plastic surgery.

Subspecialty Certification
In addition to primary certification in plastic surgery, plastic surgeons may pursue subspecialty certification in certain areas of focus within the field. Subspecialty certification is available in the following areas:

  • Hand Surgery: Focuses on the surgical treatment of hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions, including trauma, peripheral nerve disorders, tendon injuries, and congenital anomalies.
  • Surgery of the Hand: Focuses on the surgical management of conditions affecting the hand, wrist, and forearm, including traumatic injuries, degenerative conditions, and congenital anomalies.
  • Surgery of the Breast: Focuses on the surgical treatment of breast disorders, including breast augmentation, breast reduction, breast reconstruction, and breast cancer surgery.
  • Surgery of the Face and Neck: Focuses on the surgical treatment of facial and neck deformities, including facial rejuvenation procedures, rhinoplasty, eyelid surgery, and facial reconstruction.
Step 6


Licensure for plastic surgeons is governed by state medical boards. Plastic surgeons must obtain a medical license from the state in which they intend to practice in order to legally practice medicine, including performing surgical procedures. Here's an overview of the licensure process for plastic surgeons:

  • Graduation from Medical School: Plastic surgeons must graduate from an accredited medical school and obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree.
  • Completion of Residency Training: After medical school, plastic surgeons must complete a residency program in plastic surgery accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) or the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). Plastic surgery residency typically lasts six to seven years and provides comprehensive training in both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures.
  • Passing the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) or Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination (COMLEX-USA): Plastic surgeons must pass the USMLE Step 1, Step 2 Clinical Knowledge (CK), and Step 2 Clinical Skills (CS) exams, or the COMLEX-USA Level 1, Level 2 Cognitive Evaluation (CE), and Level 2 Performance Evaluation (PE) exams to obtain licensure.
  • Obtaining Postgraduate Training: Some states may require plastic surgeons to complete additional postgraduate training, such as a fellowship program, before applying for licensure.
  • Application for State Licensure: Plastic surgeons must submit an application for licensure to the state medical board where they intend to practice. The application typically includes proof of medical education, completion of residency training, examination scores, and documentation of any postgraduate training.
  • Background Check and Verification: State medical boards conduct background checks and verify the credentials of applicants to ensure they meet the requirements for licensure.
  • Passing the State Medical Licensing Examination: Some states require plastic surgeons to pass a state-specific medical licensing examination in addition to the USMLE or COMLEX-USA.
  • Continuing Medical Education (CME): Plastic surgeons must participate in continuing medical education (CME) activities to maintain their medical license. CME requirements vary by state but typically include a certain number of hours of CME credits every few years.

Once licensed, plastic surgeons are legally authorized to practice medicine within the scope of their training and expertise in the state where they hold licensure. Licensure requirements may vary from state to state, so plastic surgeons should familiarize themselves with the specific requirements of the state where they plan to practice.