Career Advising

Specialty Choice: Plastic Surgery

Plastic Surgery

A plastic surgeon deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, craniomaxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, and external genitalia or cosmetic enhancement of these areas of the body. Cosmetic surgery is an essential component of plastic surgery. (Source: AAMC Careers in Medicine)

Associated Societies

Quick Facts

The following information comes from the National Resident Matching Program's Charting Outcomes in the Match 2014 (PDF)  based on matched applicants in the United States.  

Advice for MS1 and MS2 Students

Q: What particular activities should first and second year students get involved with who are interested in pursuing this specialty?

An integrated plastic surgery program is a competitive residency, so doing well academically in the first two years of medical school is very important. High scores on Step 1 are expected. Early shadowing is beneficial. Students can contact Dr. Johnson for shadowing opportunities and for attendance at the plastic surgery conference (Tuesday afternoons).

Q: Are research experiences important in your specialty?

Research experience is not technically required, but applicants in this field have a greater number of research experiences compared to others, so research is strongly recommended and looked on favorably by residency programs.

Q: If so, do these need to be specialty specific research experiences?

Any research experience is better than no research experience, but generally plastics or surgical research is preferred.

Q: Does class rank matter?

Yes. 39 percent of applicants are in AOA according to NRMP 2014 results. Doing well in your first two years of medical school and on Step 1 is a must.

Advice for MS3 and MS4 Students

Q: When should I ask for letters of recommendation (LORs)?

Ideally you should ask for letters in May but absolutely no later than July, allowing your letter writers adequate time to upload your letter prior to the ERAS application submission date of Sept. 15. Your personal statement and CV should be ready as well as many letter writers will request this in order to write you a strong letter.

Q: How many LORs do you need?

A minimum of three. Plastic surgery faculty use a Plastic Surgery Residency Recommendation Form, which is appended to the letter of recommendation. If your letter writer is a plastic surgeon, please inquire about this form.

Q: Is a letter from a chair required?


Q: Do all letters need to be written by members of this specialty?

 No, but shoot for at least three within the field. Get a letter from your home program’s plastic surgery program director/chief.

Q: Do any letters need to be written by external institutions?

Yes, ideally two or more letters from away rotation program directors.

Q: Does your Step 2 CK score matter?


Q: What electives would you recommend for someone who is interested in pursuing this specialty?

During your general surgery clerkship, ask to be part of the Silver service at MVH (this is the burns and plastics surgery team). Any extra surgical experience is also valuable. Consider doing Infectious Disease, Dermatology, Neuroradiology, Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine.

Q: Should a student interested in this specialty do away rotations?


Q: If so, how many “aways” do you recommend and when should they be completed?

Two or more away rotations are highly recommended. They should be completed in June-September

Q: Which month is recommended to take off to interview?

Most interviews are from mid-November through mid-January. Take a month or so off between November and January, and schedule as many interviews as possible during the month you took off.

Similar Specialties to Consider

  • General Surgery
  • ENT
  • Other surgical subspecialties

Residency Programs

Available Fellowships

  • Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
  • Craniofacial Plastic Surgery
  • Reconstructive Microsurgery Plastic Surgery
  • Plastic Surgery Research
  • Surgical Wound Care

Looking into the Future/Changes in Health Care

A new trend… points to more and more young adults and teens opting for aesthetic procedures. In 2015, a whopping 64 percent of American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (AAFPRS) member facial plastic surgeons saw an increase in cosmetic surgery or injectable treatments in patients under age 30.

“The teen and young adult years are a highly impressionable time and the more consumers are inundated with celebrity images via social media, the more they want to replicate the enhanced, re-touched images that are passed off as reality,” says Edwin Williams III, president of the AAFPRS. “We are seeing a younger demographic than ever before seeking consultations and treatments with facial plastic surgeons all over the country.”

The influence of celebrities and selfies on plastic surgery is not just a Gen X movement. Patients of all ages are becoming desensitized to plastic surgery as more celebrities come clean about their cosmetic tweaks. Having a little “work done” has become less taboo. In fact, 82 percent of surveyed surgeons reported that celebrities where a major influence in their patients’ decision to have plastic surgery last year.  (Source: AAFPRS)

Additional Information

See the Career Essentials Pilot Page regarding specialty specific advice for more detailed information and resources.


Last edited on 11/01/2016.