Health Break | Published December 14, 2009

What Is Plastic Surgery?

You’ve just been to see your family doctor for a checkup, and he notices a spot on your cheek and is concerned, so he refers you to a specialist. When you start to do your homework on this specialist, you discover she is a plastic surgeon. What? You thought you would see a dermatologist, since this is a skin problem. After all, a plastic surgeon does facelifts and breast implants, right?

Plastic and reconstructive surgery is a much broader specialty than most people realize. When asked what a plastic surgeon does, the majority of people would undoubtedly answer that he or she does cosmetic procedures, such as a facelift or tummy tuck. This is generally how plastic surgeons are portrayed in the media. A few others might say that a plastic surgeon does cleft lip or burn surgeries. The truth is, while many plastic surgeons do cosmetic procedures, they often do other types of surgery, such as skin cancer surgery, hand surgery, breast reconstruction, craniofacial surgery such as repair of broken facial bones or correction of birth defects, and reconstruction of traumatic or diabetic leg wounds, to name a few.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that there is overlap between specialties. While plastic surgeons can fix broken bones in the face or perform carpal tunnel surgery, other types of physicians may perform cosmetic procedures such as eyelid surgery or Botox injections.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeons spend at least five to eight years in residency training after medical school. Many of them do additional training to become experts in pediatric craniofacial surgery, hand surgery, or microsurgery, which involves operating on very small blood vessels and nerves under a microscope. The reconstructive and cosmetic surgery services at Mount Nittany specialize in restoring or reconstructing the human body. From burns to traumatic injuries and diseases such as breast or skin cancer, reconstructive surgery can restore function, confidence and healing to those afflicted with a disfiguring disease or injury. The service also provides procedures and surgery for those seeking to improve their appearance.

For more information about reconstructive and cosmetic surgery, call 814.231.2096 or email The office is located at its temporary location at 2520 Green Tech Drive, State College. On January 4, the permanent location at 100 Radnor Road will open for the community.

Emily A. Peterson MD is a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Mount Nittany Physician Group.