Becoming a plastic surgeon requires at least 13 years of education, and often more, beyond the high school level. In addition to four years of undergraduate education and four years of medical school, a plastic surgeon will have completed at least five years of residency and potentially an additional year of training.
Plastic surgeons must receive a bachelor's degree from a four-year college, though some students are able to complete this degree in less time. Although students are not required to major in a specific field, they must have a firm foundation in a number of sciences. These are prerequisites for admission to medical school. Extracurricular activities and high academic achievement are also necessary to be accepted.
Students who have not completed the prerequisites for medical school, like those who decide to pursue a career in medicine later in their lives, along with students who need to pull up their grades to be admitted to medical school, could need extra time in school between their undergraduate work and their acceptance into medical school.
After their undergraduate education, potential plastic surgeons must complete medical school. This includes two years of work primarily in the classroom, in which students extensively study a wide range of sciences and subjects in medicine, and two years spent primarily doing work in a clinical setting. The pace of these four years if fairly set, but some students may take time off or need additional time to repeat coursework they failed.
Plastic surgery is one of the most difficult residency to be accepted into, with a high number of applicant per open position and high average grades and test scores of those selected. A potential plastic surgeon may first study general surgery and then study plastic surgery. She must study general surgery for at least three years, and may take longer if she completes a general surgery residency before pursuing residency in plastic surgery. After studying general surgery, the residency in plastic surgery is an additional two or three years of study. A plastic surgeon may alternatively pursue five or six years of study that integrates general surgery and plastic surgery. An additional year of education may be necessary, on either track, for those interested in pursuing work in research.
A plastic surgeon may also choose to participate in a fellowship, which is typically one year, to practice his skills under the guidance of experienced plastic surgeons and move gradually into working fully independently. One year of training after residency is also required to practice in the subspecialties of plastic surgery within the head and neck or surgery of the hand.