What do plastic surgeons do?

What is Plastic Surgery - Part II

for part I: What is Plastic Surgery

An essay personally written by Dr. Tammy Wu, MD -
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon of Surgical Artistry Inc located in Modesto, CA, U.S.A.

More about Tammy Wu, MD and Surgical Artistry:  Plastic Surgery Modesto

Picture of Dr. Calvin Lee and Dr. Tammy Wu - Surgical Artistry, Inc., Providing Plastic Surgery to Modesto, California
Dr. Tammy Wu operating with Dr. Calvin Lee in Modesto, CA


So, what does a plastic surgeon do anyway?

Plastic surgery is a surgical subspecialty that involves a wide diversity of procedures from head to toe. But in general, the different types of surgeries may be divided into two categories: Reconstructive and Cosmetic.

Reconstructive surgery aims to improve function and form and restore as true as possible the original esthetics of the body part, whether it be the arm, hand, breast, or trunk. Cosmetic surgery involves enhancement of certain “normal” parts of the body. The definition of “normal”, of course, is difficult to qualify and quantify. But, the goal of cosmetic, esthetic, or plastic surgery (which are all terms used to describe what has been in general conglomerated into ‘cosmetic’ surgery), is to achieve as much as possible the ideal esthetic form of the particular body structure.

As we know, the “ideal” body form or structure changes with time, just as fashion changes with time. There are certain basic foundations and principles that remain the same throughout time, but the specifics of certain areas may change. For example, the deep-set eyes were all the rage in the 1960s through the 1980s. But now, the goal of periorbital esthetics is to replace lost fat, and to restore the youthful fullness of the eyelids.

Because the transformation can be quite amazing, the media has recently caught on more to the cosmetic half of plastic surgery. As a result, most people equate “plastic surgery” as “cosmetic surgery”; when in fact, plastic surgery is all encompassing. We as plastic surgeons are trained to do both reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries because they are quite intimately intertwined.  

In performing reconstructions of body parts, we first have to learn the “normal” and what “normal” looks like so that we may reconstruct the area that is missing, has been traumatized, or mutilated where the original form is no longer available or visible. For instance, in my previous article which described some of the procedures that I participated in as a medical student at Brown University, reconstruction requires careful attention to the fine details of the normal so that the appropriate form, function, and esthetics may be restored. This same close attention to detail is applied toward our cosmetic surgery training. Cosmetic surgery is essentially reconstructive surgery that has been taken a step further, with the goal of enhancing a body part to be as close as possible to ideal.

Evolution of cosmetic surgery from reconstructive surgery

Cosmetic surgery evolved from reconstructive surgery. For example, reconstruction of the nose was described as early as 2000 BC in India. This written text was translated and alternatives methods of reconstruction and improvements were described. Then cosmetic enhancement of normal nose was described in the 1800s by Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach. With advent of anesthesia, elective surgery became possible, and cosmetic surgeries became more accessible. Then through the broadcasting of cosmetic surgeries, the public became better educated on the options of cosmetic surgery.

As everyone is aware, any type of surgery, including cosmetic surgery, is not to be taken lightly. Therefore, when considering cosmetic surgery, one should take care to do research and make sure that your plastic surgeon has been properly trained by accredited surgical residencies specifically designed to give you the best possible results because they are well grounded in knowing the normal from the abnormal, and are able to reconstruct and enhance.

The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS)

The American Board of Plastic Surgery is an AMA recognized board that certifies safe plastic surgeons who are well versed in reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries from head to toe. The American Board of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery certifies otolaryngologists to perform cosmetic surgeries of the head and neck. When you talk to your plastic surgeon, be sure to ask the following questions:

  1. Are you board certified?
  2. And if you are board certified, what is the name of your board?
  3. Do you have hospital privileges to perform the surgical procedure that I am considering?

The third and last question is an important one because if the physician is not trained properly in plastic surgery, they will not and cannot obtain hospital privileges to perform such procedures, and may elect to do their surgeries in an office setting instead. The hospitals go through extensive credentialing process to grant privileges to physicians allowing them to perform procedures in their facilities. Therefore, make sure you ask all the questions.




- Tammy Wu, MD
Board Certified Plastic Surgeon
Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS)
Modesto, CA
Composed on 8/4/09

Next essay: The Wu Medical Family - "Medicine is the language we speak at home" by Dr. Wu

Plastic Surgery Modesto
(209) 551-1888

Thank you for visiting our web page on the definition of Plastic Surgery, part II with discussion of cosmetic surgery as a subset of plastic surgery.  This is part of a series of essays written by Dr. Tammy Wu, Board Certified Plastic Surgeon practicing in Modesto, CA, USA

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Disclaimer:  This website is not intended to create a physician patient relationship.  There is no specific targeted medical advice here.  Please see your physician in person.  This disclaimer also applies to our other websites with generalized information:  Plastic Surgery Modesto CA, Plastic Surgery Modesto, Cosmetic Surgery, Acupuncture Modesto, Veins Modesto, How to Choose a Plastic Surgeon, Breast Augmentation Modesto, Breast Augmentation FAQ, Tummy Tuck FAQ, Botox in Modesto

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