Have Most Plastic Surgeons Had Surgery Themselves?

Doll with marker outline on face for plastic surgery
"Physician, heal thyself," goes the biblical proverb. Does the same standard apply for surgeons who handle elective cosmetic procedures? Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

At his San Diego office, Alex Roher, M.D., relaxes wrinkles and plumps deep lines one face at a time. For years, he's been administering vials of Botox and injectable fillers to patients eager to refresh their looks, but does the desire to look younger extend to industry professionals? Absolutely, Dr. Roher contends.

"Most plastic surgeons have gone under the knife," says Roher. "The rate compared to the general public is much higher, from my experience."


Cosmetic vs. Plastic Surgery

Before delving into the propensity of surgeons to undergo appearance-altering procedures, let's get a handle on the differences between cosmetic and plastic surgeons. Although "cosmetic" and "plastic" are terms often used interchangeably, they refer to two different levels of training.

In general, surgeons who follow the training and certification process to become a board certified plastic surgeon are required to complete 150 cosmetic surgery cases as part of a rotation that includes surgical training for hands, reconstruction, trauma, congenital defects and other disorders. Plastic surgeons repair cleft palates and revise scars, as well as reconstruct limbs and breasts after surgery. However, plastic surgeons can perform surgical and noninvasive procedures that are strictly cosmetic, too.


plastic surgeon examining patient
In the United States, plastic surgeons undergo cosmetic procedures at a higher rate than the general population, according to research.
Innocenti/Cultura RF/Getty Images

Cosmetic surgeons are focused on enhancing the appearance of a patient's face, neck or body with liposuction, tummy tucks, breast augmentations, facelifts and other cosmetic procedures. Cosmetic surgeries are considered elective, as are noninvasive procedures like laser resurfacing or Botox injections. To become board certified, cosmetic surgeons are required to complete 300 cosmetic surgery cases.


Surgery Rates Among Surgeons

So, do most plastic or cosmetic surgeons elect to enhance their appearance? And, do they do so at a higher rate than the general public?

"Yes and yes," says Grant Stevens, M.D., fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives, and a clinical professor of plastic surgery at the University of Southern California.


The results of a study published in the December 2009 Journal of Plastic Reconstructive Surgery seem to bear out this anecdotal evidence. The study found that, of the 276 plastic surgeons surveyed, a full one-third have had at least one type of cosmetic surgery, while Pew Research Center statistics show that of the general U.S. population, only 4 percent of adults say they've had cosmetic surgery. Of the surgeons who'd had surgery themselves, the most common surgical procedure (18.6 percent) was liposuction of the trunk and/or extremities.

Interestingly, female plastic surgeons were less likely to have breast augmentation than the general population, but male plastic surgeons were more apt to have cosmetic procedures than men in the general population. It's a finding that holds true for Glenn Vallecillos, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon in Beverly Hills.

"I continuously maintain and enhance my current features with the noninvasive treatments offered throughout my practice," says Dr. Vallecillos. "I will treat myself to a laser, yet other times I will ask one of my nurses to inject a little Botox."

Like Dr. Vallecillos, 62 percent of the plastic surgeons in the 2009 study had undergone at least one type of minimally invasive cosmetic procedure, less serious than surgery. The most common procedure was Botox injections (31.5 percent), and female plastic surgeons had significantly more minimally invasive cosmetic procedures compared with male plastic surgeons (84.9 versus 57 percent).


The Selfie Effect

In 2016, facial plastic surgeons reported an uptick in cosmetic surgeries by patients under 30, along with an increase in nonsurgical procedures, according to a member survey by the American Academy of Facial Plastics and Reconstructive Surgery.

Fifty-one percent of AAFPRS members reported that more patients are seeking early intervention, with increasing numbers of men and women in their 20s and 30s opting for facial injectables.


"The focus has shifted from correction to prevention," says Fred G. Fedok, M.D., president of the AAFPRS, in the report. "Even before the first signs of sagging, lines or volume loss, we are seeing patients adamant about stalling the aging process."

Nearly all AAFPRS members — 99 percent — agreed that celebrity influence plays a big role. And so does social media. According to AAFPRS members, the top driver for cosmetic procedures is the impact of social media; of participating surgeons, 42 percent reported that patients are seeking cosmetic procedures to look better in selfies on Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook Live and other social channels.

The second-most reported motivating factor for patients was the desire to remain "relevant" and "competitive" at work.


Walking Billboards

Many plastic surgeons are no different. They feel it's difficult to sell their services without looking like they've taken a dip in the fountain of youth themselves

"One of the benefits of treating myself is I'm a walking billboard of my own work," plastic surgeon Lorrie Klein, M.D., said in a 2015 interview with Real Self magazine. "I'm proud of my artistry and like to show it off. What nature didn't give me or what age has taken away, I can frequently fix."