Advanced Practice Nursing

How to Become a Plastic Surgery Nurse

How to Become a Plastic Surgery Nurse
Myth: Plastic surgery is a vanity procedure. Image from Death to the Stock Photo
Elen Turner profile
Elen Turner November 14, 2019

Plastic surgery is a lot more than voluntary nose jobs and body part enhancements. It's also reconstructive surgery for post-operative and post-trauma patients. No matter the patient or the purpose of the procedure, plastic surgery nurses are there to provide essential support.

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When you think of plastic surgery, you may think of celebrities who have undergone extensive facial or bodily enhancements (the worst of which end up in clickbait slideshows). However, while cosmetic plastic surgery is a significant component of this medical practice, that’s not all there is to it. Reconstructive surgery—which repairs damage caused by genetics, trauma, or medical events—figures at least as prominently in many plastic surgeons’ practices. Both types of surgery require exceptional expertise to produce successful procedures and satisfied patients.

Plastic surgery nurses play an essential role in the provision of plastic surgery treatments and care to patients and clients, often serving as a trusted advocate and source of comfort and strength. This article details the process by which you can become a plastic surgery nurse. In it, we cover:

  • What a plastic surgery nurse does
  • The education requirements to become a plastic surgery nurse
  • How to get a license and accreditation for becoming a plastic surgery nurse
  • Further tools and resources for becoming a plastic surgery nurse
  • Should you become a plastic surgery nurse?

What a plastic surgery nurse does

The American College of Surgeons defines plastic surgery this way: “Plastic surgery deals with the repair, reconstruction, or replacement of physical defects of form or function involving the skin, musculoskeletal system, cranio and maxillofacial structures, hand, extremities, breast and trunk, and external genitalia.” Plastic surgeons, the definition continues, use “aesthetic surgical principles” in all procedures, whether elective or necessary.

Despite the popular perception that plastic surgery is a vanity procedure, most plastic surgeries are reconstructive. In 2018, US plastic surgeons performed:

  • 1.8 million cosmetic surgeries
  • 5.8 million reconstructive surgeries
  • 15.9 million minimally invasive cosmetic procedures (Botox treatment, tissue fillers, chemical peels)

Most plastic surgeons specialize in cosmetic or reconstructive surgery. So, too, do plastic surgery nurses. Within these two areas are further sub-specializations, which include:

  • Cosmetic, e.g., nose jobs, breast enhancement, liposuction
  • Congenital, e.g., cleft lip/palate, craniofacial defects, genito-urinary abnormalities
  • Breast surgery, e.g., reconstruction after breast cancer
  • Skin, e.g., excisions and reconstruction after skin cancer or burns
  • Trauma, including burn injuries or facial trauma
  • Hand and upper limb surgery, where normal function is vital for quality of life
  • Pediatric plastic surgery, which includes elements of the above but specifically as they relate to children

Regardless of specialization and sub-specialization, plastic surgery nurses also perform a roster of micro-level care and communication tasks for patients. These include:

  • Reviewing a patient’s medical history to give assessments
  • Telling patients what to expect from a procedure
  • Preparing the operating room for sterilization to create a safe environment for infection prevention
  • Readying patients for surgery and anesthesia
  • Monitoring patients during the procedure
  • Dressing wounds and cleaning surrounding areas to prevent infection
  • Following up with the patient after procedures for care instructions and emotional support

Plastic surgery nurses must stay up-to-date with best practices in their field and remain aware of advances in plastic surgery practice. They typically do this by:

  • Attending professional conferences
  • Reading journals and publications for practitioners
  • Undergoing further training and accreditation

Like most nursing specialties, plastic surgery nurses work in hospital operating and recovery rooms, as well as in outpatient clinics. Aesthetic nurse specialists are more likely to work in aesthetic clinics and medical spas than in hospitals. Some even have their own clinics if they are doing non-invasive cosmetic procedures.

Plastic surgery nurses typically earn about $75,000 annually, according to ZipRecruiter. The site reports that half of all plastic surgery nurses earn between $58,000 and $93,000 each year. Glassdoor reports plastic surgery nurse income at the slightly lower figure of $73,000 annually. By way of comparison, registered nurses in aggregate earn $71,730 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Education requirements to become a plastic surgery nurse

Plastic surgery nurses must follow the same educational path as other nursing specialists. First, it’s necessary to become a registered nurse (RN). The minimum degree required to obtain an RN license is a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), although a four-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) is preferred by many employers and is increasingly becoming the favored qualification.

Nursing students who plan to become plastic surgery nurses later should pursue specialist courses during their undergraduate degree, including:

If you aren’t sure yet if your registered nurse career path includes plastic surgery, don’t worry: you can pursue specialized education later through certificate courses and on-the-job training. There are no specific degrees on plastic surgical nursing. Schools with highly regarded nursing programs include:

After earning your RN license, the next step is to get some general nursing experience. If you can find a position where you can get plastic surgery experience, great. That will help you clock the required hours you’ll need for certification.

How to get a license and accreditation to be a plastic surgery nurse

While certifications are not technically necessary to work as a plastic surgery nurse, many employers will require one. Even if you are already employed, a certification can help you increase your responsibilities and improve your income.

Plastic surgery nurses are certified by the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB). The organization offers two certifications:

Each requires at least two years of experience working as a nurse, including current employment as a plastic surgery nurse. These certifications must be renewed every three years. You needn’t resit for the exam, but you do have to clock a certain number of work hours.

You must also earn a nursing license to practice in your state of employment. Licensure is administered by the states, with requirements varying from one to another. All states require nurses to pass the National Council Licensure Exam-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN) to qualify for licensure.

Many nurses also choose to pursue graduate study to enhance their job prospects. You don’t have to commit to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN); single courses and certificate programs also bolster your résumé. For example, you can complete a Registered Nurse First Assistant (RNFA) program, which certifies your qualifications for perioperative roles. Should you decide to pursue the MSN, you could become a nurse practitioner. This would qualify you to perform many of the same functions as a general practitioner, including (in 22 states) prescribing medications.

Tools and resources for becoming a plastic surgery nurse

The following resources host a treasure trove of information on nursing education and careers in plastic surgery nursing:

Should you become a plastic surgery nurse?

Should you choose to become a plastic surgery nurse, you’ll benefit from the range of choices. You can specialize in aesthetic or reconstructive surgery, adult or pediatric. No matter what practice you decide upon, you’ll be engaged in helping people look and feel their best. Every day will present new patients and new challenges, and you’ll earn a respectable income in the process.

Finally, no matter which field you choose, opportunities should be available. More than 20 million plastic surgery procedures are performed in the US each year. According to ISPAN, “As the nursing shortage continues, we have not heard of anyone interested in plastic surgery nursing being unable to find employment.” It’s a good time to be a plastic surgery nurse.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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