How to Transition from General Surgery to Cosmetic Surgery

Cosmetic surgery is one of the most fulfilling medical specialties, allowing surgeons to apply their highest skills to restore patients’ confidence. As a general surgeon, perhaps you are craving the nuanced aesthetic challenges and fulfilling patient relationships that characterize the field of cosmetic medicine, or perhaps specific surgical experiences have sparked an interest in creating beautiful cosmetic outcomes.

However you arrived at the decision to consider a shift to cosmetic surgery, your general surgery training has provided you with the base set of skills necessary to, with the right training, successfully change career paths—and you can do so skillfully and efficiently by entering a 1-year cosmetic surgery fellowship with the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS) followed by achieving board certification with the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS). Here’s how the transition works.

1. Complete your general surgery residency training.

The surgical skills you acquire in general surgery training prepare you well for the cosmetic surgery fellowship. Since many of the most sought-after cosmetic surgery procedures, including breast augmentation and liposuction, are performed along soft tissue planes, your experience in this area will be critical to acquiring specialized skills and knowledge from the very first day of your fellowship.

General surgery training also helps you learn patient evaluation and conscientious decision-making, skills that translate well to elective surgery: each individual patient requires a customized approach based on their anatomy in order to achieve their particular goals.

Finally, as with general surgery, a key priority of cosmetic surgeons is to support a healthy healing process and achieve barely-visible scars. Experience in the principles of suturing and wound healing acquired during surgical residency training is a critical building block towards providing beautiful, natural-looking results for cosmetic surgery patients.

2. Pursue primary board certification.

After your training is complete, begin the process of obtaining board certification in general surgery. Board certification in your primary specialty, or evidence that you are board eligible and pursuing board certification, is required for general surgeons both to enter fellowship training and sit for the board certifying exams with the ABCS.

3. Complete an AACS-certified fellowship.

During the AACS fellowship, you will work with an established board certified cosmetic surgeon at their private practice, treating real cosmetic patients in the full range of procedures that are commonly performed today. On average, surgeons work on 687 major cosmetic procedures during this fellowship. Among the list of procedures that you will perform in fellowship, you can expect to achieve expertise in:

  • Breast surgery
  • Liposuction
  • Tummy tuck (abdominoplasty)
  • Rhinoplasty
  • Facelift (rhytidectomy)
  • Injectables, laser skin resurfacing, and other non-surgical treatment modalities, which offer patients more options and also complement surgical procedures.

While general surgeons are well-prepared with surgical principles and techniques, most of the cosmetic procedures in which you gain training and experience as a fellow will likely be new to you. For this reason, you will find that fellowship provides a wealth of benefits in advancing your cosmetic career.

4. Sit for the certifying exam with the ABCS to obtain board certification.

To become board-certified by the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS), you will submit a thorough application that includes evidence of your cosmetic surgery cases, as well as sit for the ABCS board certifying exam (held annually).

Board certification shows your patients that you are a credentialed, highly-trained choice with experience in a wide range of cosmetic medical procedures. Further, you will benefit throughout your career from the collegiality, mentorship, and networking that comes with being a member of the ABCS. And board certified cosmetic surgeons are also eligible to become Cosmetic Surgery Patient Safety certified.

5. Establish your practice as a cosmetic surgeon

Establishing your practice in a field with such high patient demand means you will have many opportunities and potential paths forward. Many newly board certified cosmetic surgeons choose to join an established practice to ease into the field without the management and financial responsibility of a full solo practice. Others are immediately ready to strike out with their own brand and have much success doing so. Either way, having grown your network of cosmetic surgery colleagues through fellowship training and board certification, you will have the support of a community of board certified cosmetic surgeons as you establish your practice and begin seeing cosmetic patients.

Ultimately, you can expect to feel a real sense of fulfillment in your practice. As a board certified cosmetic surgeon, you will be in a position to offer safe treatment options, aesthetically pleasing results, and a great deal of happiness to your patients. Surgeons from non-aesthetic backgrounds often remark that cosmetic surgery is about helping patients feel good about themselves—and that’s what makes it so very rewarding.

Learn more about how general surgeons can specialize in cosmetic surgery through fellowship training

The American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery (AACS) also offers additional opportunities for interested surgeons to learn more about the field from practicing cosmetic surgeons:

If you have questions or would like more information on switching to the cosmetic surgery specialty, you may contact the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) office or the AACS office for more information.

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