Plastic Surgery is a long road, and there are minimal requirements, very similar to other surgical specialties. I’ll list the bare minimum, and then give my personal biases about what’s actually needed to succeed and finish.
– college degree
– medical school degree
– some type of surgery training, typically General Surgery residency.
– some type of additional surgery training in Plastic Surgery, sometimes called a Plastic Surgery Fellowship or Plastic Surgery Residency
– successful completion of the written and oral boards in Plastic Surgery, administered by the American Board of Plastic Surgery
– “maintenance of certification“, or taking a written test every 10 years, administered by the American Board of Plastic Surgery
College and Medical School are sort of self-explanatory. You have to complete college to get into medical school, and you have to complete medical school to get into a surgical training program. The key thing is to get very good grades and to show an interest in plastic surgery as early as you can. Despite what educators may say, I’m a bit of a cynic, and I think it’s crucial to get very high grades in college AND medical school to get into a decent program in surgery training. The competition only gets more fierce at every level, so it also important to declare your interests early, and show some meaningful research in what you’re interested in.
Some medical schools are pass/ fail, and may not report grades. Unless you’re going to Harvard or Yale, that may actually be a hindrance. You need to separate yourself from the pack of other bright people by showing your leadership abilities and your research interests in plastic surgery.
Once you’re in general and plastic surgery training, a lot of the book knowledge you’ve attained is useless or superfluous. For example, Biochemistry and Physiology are important to know as a surgeon, but the unique applications related to hernia repair, ICU care, burn wounds, and other surgical topics are not immediate. Rather, surgery training is the application of your theoretical knowledge gained at medical school.
Another very important thing to have in surgery residency is the ability to work with very little sleep. Although there are some work rules now, it amazes me that there continues to be little reazliation that, occasionally, surgeons may be tired. There’s no perfect solution for this- there aren’t enough surgeons around to work 12 hours shifts for every surgical specialty at every hospital in the US. However, during your training, you’ll need a huge amount of energy or drink tons of coffee to help you get though certain days.
Social support is also vital to doing well in plastic surgery training. Working long, isolated hours can make you a loner. It takes family, friends, and professional colleagues to help you not just complete, but excel, in your training.
Keeping focus on your end goal and keeping your eyes on the prize are also very important. I can’t tell you how much hoops I had to jump through just to do well on a test, get the lab result on a patient, talk to the OR staff at the operating room for the right piece of equipment…. It’s all a blur now, but at the immediate moment, it’s not easy to always keep your cool when faced with obstacles. This is possibly a reason why I hate waiting for anything, especially for food at restaurants.
Once you’re done with all of your training, you have the joy and honor of taking a written and oral board. The written board in Plastic Surgery is another written test, although a little tough. The oral board is where you either talk about surgical cases that you have done, or talk about surgical cases that are presented to you by the oral examiners.
The oral exam is a little tricky, because most surgeons in the US don’t learn by the Socratic method. As long as you remain calm, and practice giving oral answers before the actual exam, you should pass. At least for me, I found that the examiners weren’t trying to trick me- they were just trying to elicit a normal algorithm or pathway to deal with a common plastic surgery problem, and then tweak it by asking increasingly esoteric questions. Since there was only so much time per problem, I also found that the esoteric questions were tough but not impossible.
MOC/ Maintenance of Certification is one of the other joys of being a doctor in the modern era. All boards within medicine, such as pediatrics, general surgery, etc., require a repeat exam every 10 years or so to “prove” that you still have the basic knowledge needed to be a doctor within your specialty. Plastic Surgery requires a written test every 10 years. I found that buying a CD-ROM review course helped to pass that test.
For very detailed information on becoming a Plastic Surgeon, here’s the official link from the ABPS/ American Board of Plastic Surgery.