How Plastic Surgeons Got Their Name


The term Plastic Surgery comes from the Greek word plastike (teckhne) or the art of modeling or sculpting. The profession dates back to approximately 800 BC in India where forehead flaps were utilized to reconstruct amputated noses. The ancient Egyptians and Romans also performed plastic surgery to restore defects in ears/lips and enhance the appearance of the skin. The American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) was established in 1937 and given the status of a major specialty board by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) in 1941. This was well before the modern utilization of the industrial plastic products we utilize every day. Thus, the confusion between the everyday plastic items we use and plastic surgery.

The practice of plastic surgery encompasses the restoration, rejuvenation and the enhancement of the patient through the art of surgery. Plastic surgery can be divided into two main areas: reconstructive & aesthetic/cosmetic surgery.

Reconstructive plastic surgery is performed to correct functional impairments caused by burns, traumatic injuries such as facial bone fractures/ breaks, congenital abnormalities such as cleft palates/ cleft lips, developmental abnormalities, infection/ disease and cancer/ tumors. Reconstructive plastic surgery is usually performed to improve function, but it may be done to approximate a normal form or appearance. Aesthetic or cosmetic plastic surgery involves techniques intended for the "enhancement" of an individual's appearance through surgical and medical techniques, and is specifically concerned with maintaining normal appearance, restoring it, or enhancing it beyond the average level toward some aesthetic ideal.

The surgical field of plastic surgery is quite voluminous and covers many surgical fields to include burn, breast, body contouring, cosmetic, craniofacial, hand, microsurgery, pediatric and occuloplastic surgery. The first kidney transplant was performed by a plastic surgeon who subsequently was awarded the Nobel Prize, Dr. Joseph Murray. Other notable advancements have included breast reconstruction with implants/ autogenous tissue, toe to hand operations to reconstruct and restore hand function, hand transplants and face transplants. Plastic surgery is one of the most vast and complicated of the surgical professions. Training to become a plastic surgeon certified by the ABPS is time consuming and complicated.

All ASPS plastic surgeons are first physicians. They must complete college and be a medical school graduate. While the family practitioner, pediatrician or radiologist completes three years of training to practice their craft after graduation from medical school, the plastic surgeon certified by the ASPS must complete a minimum of 5 years post-graduate surgical training. Additional residency or fellowship training is very common. Often ASPS plastic surgeons go on to study further into one of the many other specific fields of plastic surgery such as hand, craniofacial, microsurgery, cosmetic surgery, etc.

All ASPS plastic surgeons are well trained and experienced surgeons. The initial training of a plastic surgeon receives can occur in many areas of surgery to include urology, orthopedics, otolaryngology (ENT), general surgery and even neurosurgery. Completion of the craft requires a core curriculum of plastic surgery that can last from two to five years depending upon the training program and the candidates' background/ experience. The training process is extensive. Most ASPS members have completed around 14 to 16 years of higher education, passed three to five national certifying examinations in both written/ oral forms and are in their mid to late 30's at the time they begin their careers. It is the heavy price they pay to enter this surgical field that restores, rejuvenates and enhances the individual through the art of surgery. It all started so many years ago through the craft of modeling or sculpting the human form.

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