The 10 Best Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs in the US

Although there may be a million different forms of medical practice, everyone who becomes a physician does so for one fundamental reason: to improve people’s lives. For that reason, plastic surgeons do some of the most crucial medical work.

A plastic surgeon performs reconstructive surgeries, rebuilding or reshaping parts of a patient’s body for a variety of reasons. 

Sometimes, the surgeon performs a procedure for health reasons, ensuring that the body can function better. Other times, a procedure occurs for aesthetic reasons, ensuring that patients can live a happier and fuller life.

Whatever the reason, plastic surgeons do work that directly improves the lives of their patients.

Because they are literally reconstructing parts of the human body, plastic surgeons need not only a thorough understanding of physiology and anatomy but also the latest technologies and processes. For those reasons, plastic surgeons need well-rounded medical school programs and residencies.

Medical schools give future surgeons the fundamental knowledge they’ll take into their practice, including an understanding of surgical procedures and anatomy. In residencies, they’ll put that knowledge to use while also gaining advanced knowledge and often participating in research projects.

Because these experiences are crucial to their careers, surgeons must find the right school and program. 

This list uses the rankings found in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery – Go Open. Each listing covers the advantages of each school and program, helping you make an informed decision as you begin your essential career.

Here are the 10 best plastic surgery schools in the US.

10. University of Washington School of Medicine (Seattle, WA)

Participants in the Plastic Surgery Residency program at the University of Washington School of Medicine enjoy multiple opportunities to practice every part of the field. 

Titled the Harborview Gold system, two residents work alongside an intern to handle complex burn and craniofacial patients. 

Working alongside faculty mentors, students get ample opportunity to take on challenging cases, preparing them for their future careers.

Students study under professors such as Dr. Kari A. Keys, who received her training at the University of California at San Francisco and the University of Washington. 

Dr. Keyes has published her research in journals such as Surgical infections, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Dr. Srinivas M. Susarla specializes in cleft lip and palate, craniofacial, and oral and maxillofacial plastic surgery. Dr. Susarla’s work has appeared Journal of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, and other top outlets.

9. Emory University School of Medicine (Atlanta, GA)

Emory University School of Medicine
Countzander, School of Medicine Emory, CC0 1.0

Established in 1858 as the Atlanta Medical College, the Emory University School of Medicine prioritizes clinical practice and research development for students in all of its tracks. With a widely diverse patient pool, the school gives its students a range of cases to address.

The Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has achievements in the field of reconstructive breast surgery that go back to the mid-1970s. 

Working in the nationally recognized Grady Memorial Hospital, students work within several departments, including the burn center and the level I trauma center.

At Grady and other partner hospitals, participants in the Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery Residency see more than 1,000 cases each year. These residents are accepted into the program on either a four-year certificate track or a six-year MD/oral surgery track. 

At the end of the program, students can apply to take a certification examination from the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

8. Stanford University School of Medicine (Stanford, CA)

Stanford Medical Center
Robert Skolmen Bobskol854, Stanford Medical Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

As part of one of the world’s best medical schools, the Division of Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery at the Stanford University School of Medicine has trained some of the finest plastic surgeons in the world. 

Graduates have gone on to join the staff at hospitals across the country, including those at the University of Chicago, the University of Southern California, and everywhere in-between.

The seven-year education program serves to give future surgeons a solid foundation of knowledge, along with advanced training in one or more specialties. This approach involves not only clinical practice but also a commitment to research. 

To this latter end, Stanford requires that students regularly participate in conferences in the field, both as presenters and attendees.

Combined with the opportunity to travel the world and participate in advocacy for members of the profession, Stanford University is a first-rate institution for plastic surgeons.

7. University of Michigan Health System (Ann Arbor, MI)

University of Michigan Medical Center
Michael Barera, University of Michigan (University Medical Center), CC BY-SA 4.0

According to the school’s fight song, the University of Michigan is the home for the leaders and the best. That phrase certainly applies to the plastic surgery program in the Department of Surgery. 

Like every other part of the university, the Department is supported by the Michigan Promise, which commits to empowering every resident in the department to continue innovating and learning.

With the Michigan Promise securing them, residents can enter clinical care situations with confidence. All of these situations put the patient first, especially the school’s renowned multidisciplinary pediatric plastic surgery clinic. 

Participants work on cases involving complex conditions, learning how to treat the patient and how to communicate with the patient’s family and caregivers.

That commitment to patient care involves research to address the most pressing questions in the field. Thanks to generous funding, the Department is involved in projects such as a device that works with patients’ existing nerves, thus making surgeries more natural.

6. University of Pennsylvania Health System (Philadelphia, PA)

University of Pennsylvania Medicine
Andrew nyr, Penn Medicine Princeton Medical Center East Side, CC BY-SA 4.0

To support the education of new practitioners, the Plastic Surgery Training program at the University of Pennsylvania Health System offers three fellowship tracks.

In the Craniofacial Plastic Surgery Fellowship, students spend one year studying and working in clinical situations. Since 1977, the Fellowship has trained some of the most influential practitioners in the field, opening new opportunities for application and research.

Board-qualified surgeons who complete a 3-year accredited residency in podiatric surgery can participate in the highly-active Penn Lower Extremity Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Fellowship. 

Working within the Hospital of Philadelphia and the Presbyterian Medical Center University City, participants work with all manner of foot and ankle cases.

The in-depth Microvascular Reconstruction Fellowship gives participants advanced training working with head and neck reconstruction. Working alongside experienced surgeons, fellows expand their abilities in clinical situations and research.  

5. Brigham and Women’s Hospital / Harvard University (Boston, MA)

One of the oldest and most respected medical schools in the country, Harvard Medical School is ranked within the top five by U.S. News & World Report in nearly every category. Operating with an $804 million endowment, the school has ample funding to support physicians in every discipline.

For plastic surgeons, that support includes residencies at the best teaching hospitals in the Boston area, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, and more. 

With access to over 2,000 inpatient beds, these hospitals ensure that residents increase their skills and knowledge working with every type of case in their field. 

These cases include everything from complex situations such as lower extremity reconstruction and oncologic reconstruction of the head and neck, as well as aesthetic surgeries.

4. Johns Hopkins University / University of Maryland (Baltimore, MD)

Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
yusuketakeuchi, Jhmi, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine is recognized by every outlet as one of the world’s best medical schools. Its reputation is built in part by intuitions such as the Johns Hopkins Hospital, a level – I trauma center with more than 1,000 beds. 

Physicians doing clinical work in these hospitals have the opportunity to work on a variety of cases, building the skills and experience they need to succeed.

When paired with the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins residency program for plastic surgeons becomes a rigorous, but highly rewarding experience.

The seven-year integrated residency program devotes six years to clinical work and one to research. During the latter year, students participate in professional degree programs to expand their knowledge. 

Johns Hopkins/U of Maryland offers a 3-year independent residency program.

3. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (Pittsburgh, PA)

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Piotrus, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Scaife Hall 2, CC BY-SA 3.0

The primary hospital for the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center features all of the state-of-the-art resources needed to advance the field. 

Thanks to these resources, Pitt Med has been a leader in research, earning placement in the top 50 in research within a number of fields, according to U.S. News & World Report.

Plastic surgeons studying at Pitt Med have the benefit of faculty members with decades’ worth of experience. Instructors include Associate Professor Dr. T. Oguz Acartürk, who has served as a fellow in Pitt’s Division of Plastic Surgery and studied muscle tissue engineering and biomaterials at Carnegie Mellon University Department of Chemical Engineering. 

Dr. Acartürk has amassed numerous accolades throughout his career, including the 2007 Young Plastic Surgeon Award from the European Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons.

2. University of Texas Southwestern Medical School (Dallas, TX)

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
Nightryder84, UTSW Nima1, CC BY-SA 4.0

One of the most affordable schools, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School charges $33,553 per year for in-state students. 

But that low tuition rate does not indicate a substandard experience, as Texas Southwestern Med enjoys a $3.4 billion endowment and operates on a yearly budget of $1.82 billion.

Residents in the plastic surgery program at Texas Southwestern Med benefit from that operating budget as they enjoy clinical training, educational experiences, and participation in graduate research. 

Although performed as part of an intensive 80-hour workweek, residents become the best practitioners, not only gaining knowledge of standards of the field but also pushing forward in our understanding.

In every concentration, residents work closely with experienced faculty to prioritize patient care. Following the principles of pre-operative planning and sound judgments during procedures, residents ensure patient safety and comfort.

1. New York University Grossman School of Medicine (New York, NY)

NYU Grossman School of Medicine
Public domain photo by Jim.henderson via Wikimedia Commons

The Hansjörg Wyss Department of Plastic Surgery within New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine tops this list thanks to its resources and commitment to the field. 

Boasting one of the country’s most comprehensive plastic surgery education programs, the Department features a sub-internship and elective rotation schedule to give students access to a variety of cases.

At the center of the program is the state-of-the-art Smilow Research Center. With a newly-opened cadaver education tissue lab and seminar room, students can gain hands-on experience under the watchful eye of their seasoned faculty mentors. 

With several dissection stations, each equipped with the latest in surgical technology, the lab augments the Department’s already thorough curriculum.

With these resources at their disposal, it’s easy to see Grossman among the very best plastic surgery schools in the US.

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