Cosmetic Surgeon Jobs and Careers
Since the early years of 2000, cosmetic surgery has become mainstream. The prevalence of cosmetic surgery amongst high profile celebrities, plus the increasing accessibility of procedures in the private market, led to it being perceived mainly as a means to improving personal appearance.
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In reality, cosmetic surgery has a much broader base: as one of the nine surgical specialities in the UK, it is concerned with reconstruction, repair or replacement of scarred, injured or abnormal areas of skin, soft tissue and skeletal parts of the body. A positive aesthetic outcome is important, of course, but it is an integrative approach and not simply about appeasing patients' desires for different appearances. It is available through the public as well as the private health systems.
High profile surgeons in the private sector may convey the image of a high-earning profession, but as with all areas of surgery, this sector is competitive, requiring years of study, hard work and determination.
What is Involved in the Job?
As with all qualified surgeons in the UK, cosmetic surgeons must adhere to the standards set by the Royal College of Surgeons, in order to ensure that consultants are high trained and well qualified to perform their roles effectively and safely.
The medical challenges are varied and unique to individual patients, who can be of any age. There is usually the need for a desirable aesthetic result, but this is combined with achieving a healthy form and function. Although work is focused on particular areas of the body, a broad basis in surgical techniques is required. The plastic surgeon's work includes areas such as:
- Designing surgical grafts.
- Transferring tissue.
- Implanting tissue.
- Managing complex wounds.
- Undertaking reconstruction after medically essential surgery, e.g. mastectomies, or reconstruction after burns trauma.
- Undertaking cranio-maxillofacial surgery, treating tissue disorders of the face and cranial areas.
- Performing specialist aesthetically directed techniques, e.g. Liposuction, breast augmentation.
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In the public health service, the surgeon works in a hospital setting. Duties include performing operations, undertaking ward rounds, attending outpatient clinics, completing administration and teaching students. As with other areas of surgery, teamwork is required with other professionals including nurses, anaesthetists, radiologists, pathologists, doctors, administrators, etc. Most surgeons complete teaching duties, research and administrative management, in addition to their clinical duties.
A typical week might include the following duties, with the balance depending on the individual position.
- Radiology meetings - discussing patient x-rays with radiologists to decide upon treatment.
- Ward rounds - seeing new patients, checking existing patients and reviewing treatment plans, teaching junior medical staff.
- Outpatient clinics - seeing new and follow-up patients, assessing patients for surgery, discussing treatment options, reviewing progress.
- Patient administration - completing notes, reviewing test results, assessing referrals, preparing for clinics and surgery.
- Journals - discussing recent research with other surgeons to raise knowledge on new approaches.
- Surgery - operating on emergency admission or elective list patients.
- Governance - discussing standards and safety issues.
- Pre-operative checks - visiting patients awaiting surgery.
- Tutorials - teaching trainee medical staff.
- External duties - various tasks for benefit of the profession, such as reviewing research papers, teaching on non-specialty courses, etc.
- Being on-call - being available during the weekend for emergency calls
Is This Job Right for You?
Hours and Conditions
A cosmetic surgeon is able to choose their working environment, by working in the public health system, a private hospital or within a university research centre. Some sit on relevant bodies and boards.
This work is constantly interesting and invariably satisfying. Some surgeons take up opportunities to travel to developing countries and work with people who might otherwise be excluded from surgery to address problems such as abnormal facial structures.
Hours vary, but as in other surgical fields, a minimum 40-hour week is typical and far longer hours are not unusual.
Type of Person Required
Many of the personal attributes of cosmetic surgeons coincide with those required of many people working in healthcare. The challenges of addressing form, function and outward looks are matched by the degree of patient concern for aesthetic results from surgery, so people skills are even higher than in most surgical professions.
If interested in cosmetic surgery, you must have:
- An existing interest in medicine, anatomy and physiology, with the ability to perform well in scientific subjects.
- Superb hand-eye co-ordination is, for obvious reasons, vital.
- Your communication skills must be outstanding. The issues of achieving patient satisfaction mean that cosmetic surgeons require a particular aptitude for communicating sensitively with patients who may not have realistic expectations of how surgery can help them or change their lives through its effect upon their appearance.
- Personal integrity is important; as people need to, quite literally, trust you with their health.
- Team skills are vital and particularly leadership qualities.
- This profession, as much as any in the health services, requires the ability to think clearly and make fast, critical decisions under pressure.
- You need to be able to work to consistently high standards, whatever is happening elsewhere in your life.
- An enquiring mind and interest in researching and staying abreast of developments in your field is essential.
- The motivation and interest in communicating with and training other people is important.
- Management and administration skills for the organisation of resources, time and people.
- Negotiating and influencing skills are involved in establishing treatment plans and procuring resources.
- An understanding of the machinations of complex organisations will help within the health service.
All surgeons need to first complete a five-year degree in medicine that is recognised by the General Medical Council. Medical schools vary, with some being more oriented towards surgery than others, so it is important to research schools carefully. Entry requirements usually include A-levels in science subjects and maths, with high grades (i.e. A-A-B). This is followed by a two-year foundation programme of general and higher surgical training. For those without the science subjects, six year degree courses may be available, featuring a one-year foundation course.
Graduates with a non-medical honours degree in a science subject can apply to a four-year graduate entry programme.
After gaining the qualification of MB or BM (Bachelor of Medicine), BChir, ChB or BS (Bachelor of Surgery), doctors then spend one year as a resident Pre-Registration House Officer (PRHO). This is completed under supervision of a surgeon and upon successful completion they register with the General Medical Council.
They will then apply for a short-term role as a Senior House Officer (SHO), usually in the Accident and Emergency department, before applying for a SHO in Basic Surgical Training, lasting up to three years, during which they rotate in different specialities and complete an MRCS (Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons) course in basic surgery. Subsequent training stages are Higher Surgical Training and, ultimately, the Certificate of Completion of Specialist Training.
Once qualified to this level, surgeons can progress to further training in the cosmetic specialisation of their choosing.
Salaries and Prospects
Compensation for cosmetic surgeons can be generous and reflects the extensive training required. Top salaries are amongst the highest in the industry.
Annual income for a Pre-Registration House Officer can be between £21,000 and £26,000. Upon entering specialist training, this can rise to £44,000. Qualified consultants can earn £70,000-£94,000 a year. Many consultants supplement their income by working in private hospitals as well. Additional benefits can lift the consultant's annual income to over £150,000.