Difference Between a Facial Plastic Surgeon and a General Plastic Surgeon

The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reports that almost 16 million surgical and minimally invasive cosmetic procedures are performed annually in the U.S., but finding the right type of plastic surgeon can be confusing.

Did you know there are different kinds of plastic surgeons performing a vast array of cosmetic and general procedures? The terms “facial plastic surgeon” and “general plastic surgeon” are often used interchangeably, but the two subspecialties are actually quite different.

What is Facial Plastic Surgery?

Dr gross and actual patient during consultationFacial plastic surgery forms a key element of otolaryngology, treating conditions involving the entire face, nose, neck, lips, and ears. It is generally divided into two main classes of procedure: —reconstructive and cosmetic.

Reconstructive plastic surgery is primarily used for conditions existing from birth, such as a birthmark, cleft lip, protruding ears, or a contorted smile. It is also used to treat blemishes and injuries from accidents, burns, or previous surgeries.

Cosmetic facial plastic surgery includes a variety of procedures to improve the image of one’s face and features. The most popular surgeries include rhinoplasty, facial surgery and scarring, liposuction, and procedures to alleviate damaging exposure to the sun or the effects of aging.

“The facial plastic surgeon is in training for five dedicated years, just in facial and reconstructive surgery,” says Dr. Gross. “Whereas a general plastic surgeon is doing all different kinds of training over a five-year span, including burns and working with decubitus ulcer patients in addition to reconstruction.”

What is General Plastic Surgery?

General plastic surgical procedures are typically reconstructive in nature and deal with the restoration of bodily and facial deformities resulting from birth defects, trauma, burns and disease.

General plastic surgery can include:

  • Breast surgery
  • Burn repair
  • Correction of congenital defects
  • Lower extremity restoration
  • Hand surgery
  • Scar rectification

In addition to a general surgery residency, board certified plastic surgery physicians are required to complete an additional two years in plastic surgery. Therefore, part of the surgeon’s training may involve some elements of facial plastic surgery but normally will cover only a fraction of the complete array of procedures in the field.

Facial Plastic Surgery: A Specialized and Comprehensive Training

Dr. gross in conversation with patient as staff member observesSo, what’s the difference between a facial plastic surgeon and a general plastic surgeon?

Over the course of their training, facial plastic surgeons spend the entirety of their focus on the anatomy and conditions of the head and neck; and then follow that training with a year-long fellowship where they enhance their skills in their particular area of interest such as reconstructive facial surgery, rhinoplasty, or facial scarring repair.

“When we’re finished with our training, a facial plastic surgeon has literally a thousand or more index cases than a general plastic surgeon,” says Dr. Gross.

“Taking that advanced training forward, once we begin our practices, we’re dedicated to the field moving year through year. So by year 5, 10, 15 or 20, a facial plastic surgeon typically has generated thousands of cases in the dedicated area of the face, where a general plastic surgeon is maybe only doing only 10% of that volume. Therefore our experience level is much greater.”

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