Dr. Mark Zukowski Highlights the Key Differences Between Plastic Surgery and Cosmetic Surgery

Dr. Mark Zukowski
Sep 3 · 3 min read

Although they share some similarities and are often referred to interchangeably in casual conversation and pop culture, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery are not two terms for the same set of medical procedures. According to board certified plastic surgeon Dr. Mark Zukowski of Wilmette, Illinois, the key differences are rooted in focus and training:


The goal of plastic surgery is to reconstruct body and facial defects that are caused by disease, trauma, injuries, burns and birth disorders. Some common plastic surgery procedures include scar revision surgery, hand surgery, burn repair surgery, breast reconstruction, lower extremity reconstruction, and congenital defect repair.

The goal of cosmetic surgery is to use various medical and surgical techniques on the body, neck or head to enhance a patient’s appearance. Some common cosmetic surgery procedures include facial rejuvenation, body contouring, breast enhancement, and facial contouring.

Dr. Mark Zukowski, who is a diplomate of the American Board of Plastic Surgery and active member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, adds that in essence, plastic surgery is reconstructive in nature, while cosmetic surgery is aesthetic in nature. For this core reason, cosmetic surgery is elective.


After completing medical school, plastic surgeons complete a residency or fellowship (or sometimes both) in plastic surgery. If they choose to become board certified, then the residency program must take either of the following training paths: integrated residency that combines three years of plastic surgery and three years of general surgery, or an independent five year residency program in general surgery, which is then followed by a three-year residency program in plastic surgery.

After completing medical school, a cosmetic surgeon completes post-residency fellowship training in an approved residency program in one of the following specialities: general surgery, plastic surgery, urology, thoracic surgery, orthopedic surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, neurological surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, otolaryngology, or ophthalmology.

Dr. Mark Zukowski notes that different certifying boards have various requirements, and they have their own rubric for evaluating and validating a physician’s experience, competence and training. As such, it is very important for patients to ask either their plastic surgeon or cosmetic surgeon about their credentials. If they wish, patients can also contact a respective board to learn about the requirements and obligations for membership.

The Bottom Line

Ultimately, plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery share a common purpose: to provide patients with the safest, most appropriate, most comfortable, and most effective medical treatment possible. However, there are fundamental differences related to focus and training that patients should be aware of.

Dr. Mark Zukowski concludes that patients should choose a physician with the requisite education, certification, experience and demonstrated practice history. They should also feel empowered and encouraged to ask a prospective physician if they can speak with his or her other patients who have undergone a similar treatment or procedure, provided of course that there are no confidentiality or privacy concerns, and the other patient or patients agree to share their experience and provide feedback.

Dr. Mark Zukowski

Dr. Mark Zukowski is a cosmetic surgeon that has been working with the international gender community for 23 years. As a board-certified plastic surgeon, his primary focus is male to female transition surgery for members of the transgender community.