What's the difference if a surgeon is certified by the American Board of Surgery vs. American Board of Plastic Surgery?

I really love the work of a specific surgeon, he is ABS certified and a part of FACS, but the fact that he isn't ABPS certified worries me. He does have many years of experience, gets great reviews and I like his results quite a bit. What is the difference in being ABS certified vs ABPS certifed? Ethics and Standards? Legal past? Specific Training? Does it really matter if the surgeon's work speaks for itself?

Doctor Answers 12

Board certification for plastic surgeons

Board certification for plastic surgeons
the American Board of surgery is for general surgeonsThe American Board of plastic surgery's certification of plastic surgeons. This whole issue of certification it is confusing for the public. The American Board of medical specialties determines which boards are approved.  As an example the American Board of cosmetic surgery is not an approved board and is made up of a number of doctors and surgeons who have not trained in an approved plastic surgery residency

Orange County Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 94 reviews

Plastic Surgeons do Plastic Surgery, General Surgeons should do General Surgery

You should be very worried that a general surgeon is doing plastic surgery.  They did not receive training in this area of surgery.  They would ABSOLUTELY NOT BE ALLOWED TO PERFORM PLASTIC SURGERY IN A HOSPITAL BECAUSE THE HOSPITAL WOULD NOT TAKE THE LIABILITY OF AN UNTRAINED SURGEON PERFORMING PROCEDURES FOR WHICH THEY HAVE NOT BEEN CERTIFIED.  American Board of Surgery is for general surgeons (gallbladder, hernia, colon, cancer, etc) American Board of Plastic Surgery is for plastic surgeons (breast augmentation, reduction, lift, tummy tuck, liposuction, hand surgery, burns, facial cosmetic surgery, facial reconstruction, general reconstruction, etc).  They are two different specialities.  General surgeons have not been trained to do plastic surgery.  End of story. FACS is a organization that covers all surgical specialities.  It is an honor and a responsibility.  ABS and ABPS surgeons are generally ethical and responsible.  However, if an ABS surgeon is performing surgery for which they are not trained and certified then they in particular have ethical issues. Would you let a gynecologist do a heart bypass on you??????

Lack of ABPS certification should worry you.

Board certification by the American Board of Surgery can only be obtained following completion of a minimum 5 year residency in General Surgery. It is absolutely essential to have if you are a practicing General Surgeon who performs appendectomies, bowel resections, gall bladder removal, trauma surgery, liver surgery...or any of the very important procedures that fall under the domain of general surgery. Board certification by the American Board of Plastic Surgery can only be obtained following completion of a residency in Plastic Surgery and is important for any plastic surgeon performing either cosmetic or reconstructive plastic surgery. They are different specialties, but both important. I happen to be certified by both. However, certification by the American Board of Surgery has nothing to do with Plastic Surgery....and any physician claiming only ABS status without ABPS is either a new plastic surgeon who is en route to ABPS certification, or is not a plastic surgeon at all. The difference is in the length and scope of training. Please read my post in the link below for more explanation.

Kevin Brenner, MD, FACS
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 22 reviews

Board certification

Certification by the American board of surgery enables a surgeon to perform certain procedures in the hospital such as hernia repairs, breast cancer surgery,   and other procedures, but not cosmetic operations.  However, in his office he can do whatever he wants.  Choose a surgeon certified by the American board of plastic surgery.  Also don't be fooled by the initials FACS.  It stands for fellow of the American college of surgeons, which is certainly a legitimate organization.  However,  Some  people think the CS somehow stands for cosmetic surgery.  It does not.  Tricky, huh?

Ronald J. Edelson, MD
San Diego Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 24 reviews

Plastic surgeons versus others...

If your chosen surgeon has excellent results, great revision policies, happy patients, and better fees, its hard not to say you shouldn't go to that surgeon, just because there is no board certification from the ABPS.  With experience, you gain wisdom and this is where it usually differentiates the plastic surgeon from the cosmetic surgeon.  And plastic surgeons are better equipped to manage the worst of outcomes, should one happen.  So if you want the safest route, the experienced board certified surgeon is best.  But I also understand that plastic surgeons are not the only ones who can do cosmetic procedures.

Curtis Wong, MD
Redding Plastic Surgeon
4.8 out of 5 stars 32 reviews

Board certification

The American Board of Surgery certifies surgeons in General Surgery (cancer, trauma, vascular, GI surgery). The American Board of Plastic Surgery certifies surgeons specifically in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery. If you are interested in a cosmetic procedure you should choose a surgeon who is trained in plastic surgery.

Best wishes,


William Bruno, MD
Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon
4.9 out of 5 stars 330 reviews

Board certification

Thank you for your insightful question. Many patients often ask the same question.

ABS certification means that the surgeon is board certified by the American Board of Surgery, and ABPS means that the surgeon is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. They are not the same. When a surgeon is board certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery, this means that he or she has completed a rigorous training process and testing process that deemed him or her capable of performing plastic surgery procedures. Plastic surgery procedures are not included in the American Board of Surgery certification. 

I recommend choosing a plastic surgeon that is either board certified or eligible in Plastic Surgery, to perform your plastic surgery procedure. 


Manish Champaneria, MD

It is mostly about the training

ABS is the board for general surgery. Scope of practice in general surgery is usually hernias, gall bladders, excisional breast surgery (not breast reconstruction), many endoscopic techniques for internal organs like bowel. The scope of practice and training between a general surgeon and plastic surgeon (certified by ABPS) is VASTLY different. Every ABPS plastic surgeon has to have a minimum of 3 years of general surgery training. There is no plastic surgery training requirement involved in ABS certification for a general surgeon. 

Lily Lee, MD
Pasadena Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 22 reviews

American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and American Board of Surgery (ABS)

Both ABS and ABPS are boards which are members of the "gold standard" American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). There are 24 member boards and the only board within the ABMS which certifies plastic surgeons is the ABPS.

The ABS certifies surgeons in general surgery, which does not include plastic surgery procedures in its testing or Maintenance of Certification (MOC) process.  Many plastic surgeons, including myself,  are certified by both the ABS and the ABPS because we completed a full general surgery residency prior to completing a full plastic surgery residency as well and then passing the rigorous testing of both ABMS boards.  Some surgeons will choose a shorter, less rigorous route of doing a "cosmetic fellowship"  and then becoming "board-certified" by a non-ABMS board called the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, rather doing a formal plastic surgery residency and becoming eligible to take the ABPS boards. I know it's confusing to the public, but not all boards are the same.

Your plastic surgeon should be at least ABPS certified, the ABS is a bonus which tells you the surgeon is also competent with the field of general surgery. 

As far as becoming a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons (FACS), a surgeon has to be board certified by and ABMS surgery board, be an ethical member of the community, be nominated by another fellow, submit a case log for review, undergo an interview process and be voted into the membership. 

Sure, a general surgeon could probably "figure it out." But there is a reason most plastic surgeons seek training in plastic surgery and then go through the testing required to be ABPS certified and that is for your safety.  Good job on doing your home work. Best wishes. 

ABS vs. ABPS Certification

Hello and thank you for your question. 

Someone who who is certified by the American Board of Surgery (ABS) is trained as a general surgeon, not a plastic surgeon. Someone who is certified by the ABPS, like myself is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and has undergone much further and rigorous training to learn procedures specific to plastic surgery. Many of us are fully trained in both general and plastic surgery. It is possible that a well seasoned general surgeon could achieve good results with cosmetic surgery, however, I'm not sure why you would put yourself in the hands of someone doing procedures outside their scope of practice. If you have arable my or complication you will probably be kicking yourself for having done so. 
Just as an exampl- as a fully trained general and plastic surgeon, I could technically very easily perform say, a C-section. But chances are you'd rather have someone specifically trained in the field of OB perform your section because they a re trained in all the aspects of care of the field of obstetrics and gynecology. Using a plastic surgeon should not be any different. 
Best of luck to you. 

David Cangello, MD
New York Plastic Surgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars 8 reviews

These answers are for educational purposes and should not be relied upon as a substitute for medical advice you may receive from your physician. If you have a medical emergency, please call 911. These answers do not constitute or initiate a patient/doctor relationship.