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Plastic Surgery Specialty at a Glance

Students interested in plastic surgery should focus on obtaining strong clinical experience in surgery, particularly in fields related to plastic surgery such as general surgery, orthopedic surgery and otolaryngology. They should also seek out research opportunities in plastic surgery and related fields, connect with plastic surgeons for mentorship, and consider completing away rotations in plastic surgery programs to gain exposure and experience in the specialty.


Match Statistics

Mean USMLE Step 2 CK score: 246
USMLE Step 2 CK 25th percentile: 235
USMLE Step 2 CK 75th percentile: 256.8
Average number of research experiences: 3
Average number of abstracts, presentations and publications: 4

  • Why should a student choose plastic surgery?

    A student should choose surgery in general if they:

    • love to be in the OR
    • love to fix a problem with their hands
    • love helping sick patients
    • have a dedication to working hard 

    A student could choose plastic surgery specifically because there is a breadth of very disparate subspecialties within plastics (microsurgery, hand surgery, craniofacial, aesthetics, etc.), each with their own appeal.

    A student should choose plastic surgery if they:

    • enjoy problem-solving
    • have an interest in anatomy
    • enjoy working with other specialties
    • love helping patients in a distinct way

    Plastic surgeons have the unique opportunity to operate all over the body and help patients with both form and function through various surgeries. It is a very technical and rewarding specialty for those who enjoy working with their hands.

  • Are there things students should do in Phase 1 (year 1 and 2) to prepare?

    Students should start a research project or two so that it can be finished and published by the time they begin applying. Having multiple in-process projects which are unpublished is less impressive.

  • What electives are recommended for students pursuing plastic surgery?

    The following electives are recommended for this specialty:

    • Sub-I: surgery
    • Elective: plastic surgery
    • Away rotations: most important is two to three away rotations, plus a rotation with Indiana University
  • What sub-Is are recommended for students going into plastic surgery?

    Logically, it is recommended to take the surgery sub-I.

  • Is an away rotation recommended for plastic surgery?

    Away rotations are strongly recommended for the integrated plastic surgery residency route, as this provides opportunities for students to work within other programs and obtain other letters of recommendation outside of their home institution. Away rotations should be treated as an interview for the program you are rotating at, as many students match at programs where they do away rotations.

    If you have a research mentor, and if you plan to continue research in residency, then it's recommended to get a fourth letter from this person. There are a few residency programs that still require a chair letter. Pay special attention to program application requirements.

  • How important is research? Does it have to be specialty specific?

    In this specialty, research sets applicants apart in a competitive field and gives them something to talk about in their interviews. This research doesn't necessarily have to be specialty specific, but it would help if it was at least related to surgery and would be best if it were relevant to some domain of plastic surgery.

  • How long is plastic surgery residency training?

    It depends on which pathway. Integrated plastic surgery residency programs are often six years plus any research time. Independent programs often require five years of general surgery training, plus any research time (now a part of many general surgery programs), followed by three years of plastic surgery training.

  • Are there any specialty-specific recommendations regarding letters of recommendation?

    For the independent pathway, secure at least one letter from a plastic surgeon, one from your general surgery program director, and another from a surgeon of any specialty who can provide a strong endorsement based on their familiarity with you.

    For the integrated pathway, aim for multiple letters from plastic surgery faculty who can attest to your strengths. Establishing early relationships with several faculty through mentorship or research is beneficial. Whenever possible, gather a diverse range of letters, including from a research mentor, clinical faculty you've worked with, and a division or department leader.

  • What are some useful resources for students considering plastic surgery?

    The most valuable resource for prospective plastic surgery applicants is to engage with current residents and fellows. Their insights into their experiences, specialties, and preferences can provide invaluable guidance. Additionally, exploring the research areas and focuses of plastic surgery attendings at IU School of Medicine or other institutions can offer insight into potential areas of interest. Utilizing resources like the ACAPS website for medical student resources and application assistance materials can also aid in exploring plastic surgery as a specialty and navigating the application process.

  • How does career mentoring at IU School of Medicine work in plastic surgery?

     The Plastic Surgery Student Interest Group offers students the chance to engage with plastic surgery residents and faculty. Residents and faculty are eager to meet with medical students and mentors as required.