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Plastic Surgery

How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

September 5, 2022
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Steps to Become a Plastic SurgeonPlastic Surgeon SalaryFAQs: How to Become a Plastic Surgeon


Reviewed by:

Jonathan Preminger

Former Admissions Committee Member, Hofstra-Northwell School of Medicine

Reviewed: 5/13/22

If you’re looking into how to become a plastic surgeon and don’t know where to start–don’t worry; we’ve got you covered! This article will go over some requirements and steps to take on your path to becoming a plastic surgeon. 

If you’re looking for a career in medicine and have a keen eye for aesthetics, a medical specialty in plastic surgery may be for you. 

When we think of plastic surgery, we often think about cosmetic procedures associated with the glitz and glam of Hollywood. In reality, plastic surgery also encompasses a variety of procedures, such as reconstructive surgery for trauma victims and survivors of illness, to aid overall restoration of physical function for patients.

Becoming a plastic surgeon can be a long and arduous process, but it can be well worth it for those who succeed. This article will go over the steps on how to become a plastic surgeon, how long it takes to become a plastic surgeon, outcomes for those who make it in the field, and some frequently asked questions to get you on the right track!

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Steps to Become a Plastic Surgeon

You might be wondering: how long does it take to become a plastic surgeon? The answer to this question isn’t always one that aspiring professionals want to hear. In reality, becoming a plastic surgeon is one of the longest roads to a medical career you can take–but it doesn’t come without worthwhile rewards. 

From your undergraduate degree all the way to the end of your residency, this section will cover the steps you need to take to become a plastic surgeon. 

Step 1: Completing Your Undergraduate Degree

Just as any aspiring med school student, completing an undergraduate degree is a must. While there are pre-med majors that can best set you up for med school, whether you earn a BA or a BSc doesn’t impact your application. Just remember that there are mandatory prerequisite courses you need to take to qualify for medical school

In addition to prerequisite courses, there are other components that med schools like to see in your application. During your undergrad, make sure you take part in meaningful extracurriculars. This can range from clinical experience such as research, volunteer work, community service, and even keeping up with your hobbies.

In addition to these prerequisites, make sure you keep your GPA up to par throughout your undergrad. Ensuring that you set yourself up for success prior to applying for med school gives you a competitive edge and gives you the opportunity to really stand out during the application process. 

Step 2: Your Med School Application

Once you’ve completed your undergrad, your next step is to get admitted into med school. This can be a daunting task due to all the steps and components the application process requires. 

The first step of this process is to ace your MCAT. While not all med schools require you to take the MCAT for consideration, getting a great MCAT score will make you a competitive candidate for med school. Once you have done this, you’ll be able to begin your AMCAS medical school application. 

The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application is where all medical schools process applicants. Your application will consist of primary and secondary components. Make sure to pay attention to the med school application timeline to ensure that you get everything in on time!

Step 3: Completing Medical School

If you’re one of the successful candidates, your next step is to get through four years of medical school. To get to graduation, it’ll help to know what to expect on this journey. This section will cover just that!


In terms of curriculum, your learning experience will be divided into pre-clinical and clinical training. For the first two years of med school, you’ll learn about basic medical concepts, structural and functional anatomy, and protocols and concepts for diagnosing and treating various diseases. 

The final two years of your degree will focus then on clinical training, which will incorporate clinical rotations, giving you hands-on experience with patients in a variety of medical specialties. 

Choosing Your Specialization and Applying for Residency 

Though the two take place at various points in your med school career, choosing your specialization and applying for residency training often come hand-in-hand. If you’re dead-set on becoming a plastic surgeon, you should begin looking for residency opportunities early in your med school career. 

You’ll want to begin your residency application in the third year of med school. Before submitting your application, you’ll have to complete the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), making you a licensed physician in the US.

Make sure you take advantage of the plethora of resources that your medical school provides to help you find the right residency. You should be actively networking and conversing with career advisors, and mentors to get you on the right track.

Step 4: Residency Interview and Acceptance

Becoming a plastic surgeon is considered one of the most competitive medical specialties, with only 44% of applicants matching with residencies in their specialty. Additionally, it is also one of the longest medical residencies to complete–taking up to 6 years. 

Though finding the right match is a challenging feat, there are a few components of your application that can help you stand out. According to the Journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, there are two things that can strengthen your application and help you seal the deal when it comes to matching with a residency: 

  1. High-quality letters of recommendation from plastic surgeons that you have interacted with throughout your med school career will show the program that practicing professionals are able to vouch for your character and work ethic, among other things.
  2. Completing your rotations at the programs you’re hoping to apply for will give you the opportunity to get to know the residents and faculty, building a connection with them as you start applying for residencies. 

Focusing on these aspects of your application and maintaining above-average grades during your medical school career will lead you one step closer to an interview with your desired program. 

With this said, you’ll want to work diligently throughout med school, practice strategic networking, and prepare thoroughly for your residency interview to find the right placement. 

Step 5: Getting Licensed 

If you made it this far, you have one last step to complete to fulfill your dream of being a certified plastic surgeon! This final stretch will require you to take a final exam facilitated by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) to ensure that you are adequately trained and ready for professional practice. 

This exam will take place in two parts: a written exam and an oral exam. The written exam aims to test your education, training, and knowledge, ensuring that it is up to par with practicing plastic surgeons. The oral exam aims to assess that the candidate is able to adequately and ethically perform complex and diverse cases. 

Each exam will consist of the following:

ABPS Exam components
Source: ABPS Written Examination, ABPS Oral Examination

Make sure you take the time to meticulously prepare for these exams as they have a significant impact on your ability to practice as a plastic surgeon.

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Plastic Surgeon Salary

With the recent boom of aesthetic procedures in Hollywood, business for plastic surgeons has been at an all-time high. While this doesn’t cover every subspecialty of plastic surgery, you can be assured that your 14 years of hard work will reap substantial rewards regardless of which subspecialty you take on. 

Based on the 2022 Average Annual Physical Compensation Report, Plastic surgeons are the second highest earning medical professionals, making an average of $479,000 per year, with the highest earning being orthopedic doctors at $511,000 per year on average. 

While these numbers represent the general average, there are also many factors that can influence how much you make as a plastic surgeon such as geographic region of practice, specialty, board certification, experience, and, unfortunately, gender wage gaps.

FAQs: How to Become a Plastic Surgeon

Now that we’ve discussed the steps you can take toward becoming a plastic surgeon, we’ll address some FAQs that you might still have. 

1. Is Becoming a Plastic Surgeon Hard?

While it can be extremely challenging, it is very attainable with the right drive and preparation. Ensure that you follow the right steps to set you up for success on your path to becoming a licensed plastic surgeon.

2. How Many Years Does it Take to be a Plastic Surgeon?

With the inclusion of your undergraduate degree, time in medical school, and residency, becoming a fully licensed plastic surgeon can take 14 years or more to achieve. 

3. How Much Do Plastic Surgeons Make?

On average, plastic surgeons make $479,000 per year. However, factors such as specialty, location of practice, experience, and many others can contribute to one’s earnings as a plastic surgeon.

Final Thoughts

Though the path to becoming a plastic surgeon is a long and treacherous one, it can be a worthwhile endeavor. As one of the highest earning and most diverse medical specialties out there, practicing plastic surgery provides a world of opportunities for your professional and personal life. 

If you think this is the right path for you–don’t give up and keep your eyes on the prize. Best of luck!

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