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Plastic Surgery

"It has been said that plastic surgeons operate on 'the skin and its contents,' alluding to the fact that on any given day plastic surgeons might find themselves operating on the face, on the hand, inside the cranium, or inside the abdominal or thoracic cavities. The field has developed from the contributions of people from many different backgrounds, including general surgery, orthopedics, oral and maxillofacial surgery, dermatology, neurosurgery, and otolaryngology. Plastic surgery encompasses all of aesthetic surgery, yet it also deals with clinical entities, including chronic wounds, limb replantation, and head and neck reconstruction…..The breadth of anatomy seen within a typical week (or even within a single day) often includes the head, neck, chest, abdomen, lower and upper extremities, breast, and hand. Some may view this as a liability. Most plastic surgeons, however, welcome the variety and tend to become bored if repeatedly faced with the same types of clinical problems. They enjoy the beauty of anatomy, especially that of the more intricate regions, such as the hand and face."

— Freeman, B. (2013). The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Medical Specialty. 3rd Ed. Lange Medical Books/McGraw-Hill: New York. p. 407-409.

M1 and M2 Students

 What advice would you offer first- and second-year students who are interested in pursuing your specialty?

Find a mentor. Spend time in the office, the operating room, at Grand Rounds and reviewing clinical projects. If you have bench research skills, plan early to see if you can have a lab research project for the summer. For chances to participate in clinical shadowing, contact faculty members by email to see if they have opportunities to shadow. If you make a commitment to shadow, keep it and do not fade away. If you have laboratory skills and want to do research work, contact Dr. Robert Galiano, who is in charge of the research enterprise. If you are interested in a clinical research project, contact one of the PGY5, 6 or 7 residents to see what projects they have cooking.

 How important is a research experience in your specialty? If important, does it need to be in the specialty itself?

A completed project separates good applications from strong applications. It helps but is not essential. It is better to have a small, complete project that you understand well rather than many partial projects. Pick something and stick with it, whether in plastic surgery or elsewhere. It is preferred that you pick a project related to plastic surgery.

M3 and M4 Students

 What M4 electives would you recommend to a student who is interested in pursuing your specialty?

Plastic surgery electives should be considered at programs that offer something different or unique. Consider a program with lots of trauma or a program in a less urban area. Explore how things are done differently. While “audition rotations” are common, picking one interesting program and rotating here is probably sufficient. If you have a strong application, auditions can only hurt you. If you have an okay application, you might be able to shine.

Medicine electives that are helpful include infectious diseases and dermatology.

Surgery electives that are helpful include orthopedics, neurosurgery, surgical oncology and otolaryngology.

Other electives that are helpful include neuroradiology, anesthesiology, oral surgery, perioperative medicine, pain medicine and psychiatry.

 Does your specialty recommend doing away rotations?

See above.

 If your specialty recommends doing away rotations, how many "aways" do you recommend?

See above.

 If away rotations are necessary, when should they be completed?

If your goal is a second letter of recommendation from a plastic surgeon, then by September. If you are auditioning, by November.

 Which month do you recommend taking off to interview?

December and January.

 Does your specialty recommend that all letters of recommendation be written by members of your specialty?

Not all letter need to be written by plastic surgeons. The program directors in plastic surgery have a recommended format which they use. The format can be downloaded by any plastic surgeon at the Association of Academic Chairs in Plastic Surgery website. Programs will start sorting applications as soon as the ERAS forms are released, so letters should be in by September.

 If letters can come from other disciplines, do you have a recommendation as to which disciplines are more highly valued?

Other surgical specialties, research mentors, school chair.

 Does the academic rank of the letter writer matter?

Rank is not as important as actually knowing the individual writing the letter. Plastic surgery is small, so even a young surgeon can be known. That said, older surgeons know more people, and more people know them. Asking an older surgeon who doesn't know you well to write a letter of recommendation usually results in a generic letter that won't strengthen your application.

 Does your specialty require a letter from the chairman?


 Plastic Surgery Specialty Session - Winter / Residency Application Information

During the winter of the M3 year, students should attend specialty sessions sponsored by the department to allow learn more about the specialty and meet attendings and residents in the field.

Request a Plastic Surgery Adviser


Gregory Dumanian, MD
Plastic Surgery Career Advising Coordinator
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Jason Ko, MD, MBA, FACS
Plastic Surgery Career Advising
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For More Information

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery
Northwestern University
Feinberg School of Medicine
675 N. St. Clair St., Suite 19-250
Chicago, IL 60611-2923
Phone: (312) 695-6022
Fax: (312) 695-5072