If you are considering nursing as a career, you are headed in a smart direction. A nursing degree and/or certification means you have a high likelihood of finding work in your field and being paid well to do it. Nursing draws people not only for job security, salary, and benefits but also because it is a challenging and rewarding profession.
Certain paths of study have greater risks and also fewer career opportunities once the degree is earned. This is why you will find music majors working in banking, art majors landing in sales, or an economics major waiting tables all across the country.
This is not to say there are not valuable opportunities within those fields of study (or that there is anything wrong with banking, selling, or serving for a living). Still, a nursing education almost always yields a job placement in the nursing field.
And once nurses are working, there are also abundant opportunities to move into specialty roles, develop leadership skills, earn more certifications, and ultimately see their salaries grow.
Plastic surgery is one of the many specialty paths to be considered in a nursing career, and there are many benefits to choosing this particular field, which we will look at later on. Before we take a deep dive into becoming a plastic surgery or aesthetic nurse, we will first review some of the basics in terms of general nursing education and requirements.
Different Nursing Types and Certification Levels
If you use the term “RN” interchangeably with “nurse,” this is the first misconception we will address. The registered nurse designation is given to nurses with a specific degree who have passed a state licensing exam. There are also other types of roles in the nursing field.
Licensed Practical / Licensed Vocational Nurse
The Licensed Practical or Licensed Vocational Nurse certificate allows students to complete a certificate and work in the field within about a year.
Vocational or LPN schools offer state-approved programs, and successful candidates earn certificates or diplomas (versus a degree, like a registered nurse). LPNs/LVNs may also return to school later to earn a bachelor’s or associate degree, and there are programs tailored to LPNs/LVNs who want to compete these degrees to become registered nurses.
Registered Nurses with Associate Degrees
An Associate Degree in Nursing (AND) or Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) are degrees that enable an individual to work as a Registered Nurse (RN) once they pass a state licensing exam.
This is a two-year schooling requirement, so it takes longer than the LPN/LVN path and means a higher starting salary.
Registered Nurse with Bachelor’s Degrees (RN BSN)
A Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing will take four years to complete and prepare future nurses to take on leadership and administrative roles.
Registered Nurses with Master’s Degrees (APRN MSN)
An advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) will have completed a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. These types of advanced degrees are often pursued while a registered nurse is already working. This degree is also a stepping stone to a doctorate program.
Doctoral Degrees in Nursing
A Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (Ph.D.) degree will take four to six years for candidates to earn, and they enable nurses to transition to teaching in academic settings (and also come with salaries in the six-figure range.)
Other Roles in Nursing
A Certified Nursing Assistant (or CNA) works under a Registered Nurse’s supervision, assisting with various tasks such as taking a patient’s vital signs and dressing wounds. CNA training can take as little as two weeks to complete, so it is an easier commitment for those who simply want some experience and exposure before pursuing a nursing degree.
Educational Requirements for Plastic Surgery Nurses
As emphasized earlier, nursing is an ideal career path for those seeking abundant job opportunities and job security. However, you must also be willing to put in the hard work to get there.
The aforementioned degree programs and paths are not for the faint of heart or the mediocre student. You must be diligent in your studies to get into nursing school and stay there.
To work as a cosmetic surgery nurse, you will need to obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN); in other words, you must be a Registered Nurse for this role.
One important point to consider if you want to work as a nurse in the plastic surgery field is that many practices prefer or require a BSN degree. The associate degree is often appealing to students since it can be completed in two years; however, this could backfire if you cannot land the specific nursing job you want. If you are certain you want to work in the field of plastic surgery, your best bet will always be to spend four years on a BSN degree instead.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to schools offering four-year nursing programs, and you should be able to find one in your area and in your budget (we will explore financial aid options a little later in the article). More than 700 schools in the United States offer accredited BSN programs. This can be a bit overwhelming when it comes to making choices about which program to pursue.
You can easily narrow the field by focusing on schools with the highest NC-LEXRN pass rate (more on that below) and coming up with a shortlist of schools that meet your location and budget requirements.
Accreditation, Licenses, and Certifications
If you want to work as a plastic surgery nurse, the four-year nursing program to earn your BSN is just the start. You also need to ensure your education comes with the proper accreditation to receive the appropriate licensing.
Accreditations for Nursing Schools
Can you imagine putting in the hard work to complete a nursing education only to find out an employer will not hire you because of the program’s accreditation (or lack thereof)?
Some employers will only hire nurses trained by nationally accredited schools, and this is something you need to be aware of as you map out your plans for a job in plastic surgery nursing.
Accreditation in academia refers to a regulatory process that ensures institutions meet certain standards for quality. This is not only applicable to nursing schools; it can apply to any college or university and any path of study.
The bodies specific to nursing schools are divided into regional and national accreditations. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes these regional accrediting organizations:
- Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
The national accrediting organizations are as follows:
- Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
For each school you are considering in your path to plastic surgery nursing, you must be sure to find out what sort of accreditation the school has and make sure it is nationally accredited to increase your chances of securing the best employment opportunities the best overall salary.
Licensing After Nursing School
Accreditation goes hand in hand with licensing, as your particular nursing school program determines your eligibility to sit for the NCLEX-RN Exam.
To take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), you must apply for a license through your state board of nursing. You must register for the test, and your eligibility will be verified; that eligibility will include the particular program you completed.
The NCLEX-RN exam must be passed before you can work as a plastic surgery nurse, and it is not something you should only begin to think about after you have completed your program.
If you want to ensure your success in landing a job as a plastic surgery nurse, you should be thinking about this as you choose your nursing school. Any reputable nursing program will be able to tell you their current NCLEX-RN pass rate. Those with the highest percentage of students passing the exam certainly use this as a selling point to attract new students.
The pass rate should be easy to find on the school’s website or other literature; if you have any trouble finding it, speak to an admissions counselor to request this information.
Certifications in Plastic Surgery Nursing
Once you have completed your education, licensing, and training, you will also need to earn a certification. The Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB) offers two certifications: The Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse (CPSN) and Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist (CANS).
The eligibility requirements for the CPSN license are:
- A current RN license
- Two years of plastic surgical nursing experience (within the last three years)
- At least 1,000 practice hours in the past two years
- Passing a certification exam
The eligibility requirements for the CANS license are:
- A current RN license
- Employment with a board-certified doctor in Plastic/Aesthetic Surgery, Facial Plastic Surgery, Ophthalmology, or Dermatology.
- Two years of nursing experience (RN)
- At least 1,000 hours of practice in one of the specialties named above
- Endorsement from your employer physicians
- Passing a certification exam
Earning this certification in plastic surgical nursing will further enhance your career and salary prospects.
Working in the Field: What Does a Plastic Surgery Nurse Do?
A registered nurse is trained to manage a wide variety of medical issues, and once RNs move into areas of specialty, their skills are honed to a specific type of patient needs.
For example, critical care nurses are specially trained in treating trauma and wounds. Pediatric nurses focus on medical care for children, and geriatric nurses cover the other end of the population and manage the medical needs associated with aging.
Plastic surgery nursing jobs require nurses to focus on the care associated with specific cosmetic and reconstructive surgeries and procedures. They work closely with plastic surgeons to develop a plan of care, including steps that need to be taken before, during, and after a cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, including everything from a tummy tuck to a gender reassignment procedure.
With their general RN training and education, plastic surgery nurses have a good foundation for understanding anatomy, pharmacology, and patient assessments. In this field, nurses also play a crucial role in supporting the patients who are often facing a difficult emotional decision or experiencing challenges due to some type of disfigurement, whether from birth or trauma. The plastic surgery we think of when it comes to a “glamourous makeover” is just one element of this type of medicine.
Not every patient is excited to undergo a plastic surgery procedure, and some may have been forced to consider it because of something quite painful. A plastic surgery nurse must be able to handle these scenarios with a great deal of empathy.
The recovery process is also a big piece of what plastic surgery nurses do on the job, working with patients to ensure a smooth recovery and also to monitor any signs of complications from a procedure.
The tasks performed by plastic surgery nurses may include some of the following (though this list is not exhaustive):
- Screening new patients and reviewing medical history
- Assessing the overall physical and mental health of patients
- Administering IV therapy
- Preparing the operating room and working in collaboration with doctors and other nurses
- Educating patients before procedures about what to expect before, during, and after surgery
- Administering some minor treatment procedures such as Botox or laser treatments
Plastic Surgery Nursing Salaries
There are a number of reasons people pursue medical careers, including a passion for helping others, a natural affinity for science, or a desire for job security. Often the reason that outranks all others is a desire for a high-paying job, and a career as a plastic surgery nurse can certainly provide a financial reward.
Specialty nursing roles tend to pay higher than general nursing jobs, which is certainly true of plastic surgery nursing. The average salary for a plastic surgery nurse in the United States is around $74,000, and this can vary depending on location and the type of practice.
Americans are spending billions on plastic surgery procedures each year, with no signs of slowing. This is a field that should continue to see growth and rising demand for qualified nurses, along with the growing number of plastic surgeons coming out of medical schools.
Where Can I Work as a Plastic Surgery Nurse?
When students consider nursing as a career path, they may not be aware that plastic surgery nursing goes beyond working only in plastic surgery practices. These nurses are also hired by dermatology and ENT practices.
Some plastic surgical nurses work in hospital operating rooms, while outpatient clinics may employ others. These settings provide opportunities for RNs to put their general patient care skills to use while also practicing skills specific to plastic surgery procedures.
This kind of work requires additional training beyond the initial nursing degree, which comes in a combination of additional classes and on-the-job training. Plastic surgery nurses study techniques specific to burn care, liposuction, breast augmentation, cleft palate reconstruction, hair transplantation, and gender reassignment, to name a few.
Assisting surgeons as well as caring for patients requires a plastic surgery nurse to understand many needs and how to address them quickly and competently.
How Can an Active Registered Nurse Transition to Plastic Surgery Nursing?
Not every nursing student knows during nursing school if they want to pursue a specific specialty. The choices can be overwhelming, and it is difficult to know how well you will like a particular nursing field without hands-on experience. For this reason, many nurses start in general RN roles before settling on a specialty.
The first few years of nursing offer a chance to understand what parts of the job you love and where your own specific skills shine. Some RNs quickly realize they want to take on more leadership roles and move toward management paths. Others may decide to focus on geriatric care, pediatric care, or shock and trauma care. Some RNs focus specifically on which path will yield the greatest opportunities or highest salary.
Nurses find roles outside of hospitals and medical offices, working in schools, home health services, or even as legal consultants where medical expertise is required.
If you decide that plastic surgery is the field you want to be in, the first and most important step is to locate a plastic surgery office with a nurse orientation program after working a few years as an RN. Your nursing background equips you with all of the basic skills you need to get started, but orientation in a plastic surgery office will expose all of the tasks and duties specific to this field.
To ensure the best possible experience and the best possible training, you will want to seek opportunities with board-certified plastic surgeons (versus practices where doctors are performing certain plastic surgery procedures but are not specifically certified in this area).
As part of this transition from working in a general RN role to working in plastic surgery nursing, you should also join the relevant organizations and associations, which we will cover at the end of this article.
After two years of plastic surgical nursing experience, you will be eligible to sit for the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board exam. This certification is not only a four-letter designation to include behind your name: it can increase your future employment opportunities in plastic surgery nursing as well as your salary.
Industry Outlook for Plastic Surgery Nursing
The outlook is extremely bright when it comes to careers in plastic surgery nursing, thanks to the fact that this is a continually growing field with more and more patients electing to undergo a variety of cosmetic and reconstructive processes.
More and more people are electing to undergo these procedures because we are living longer overall. Many patients look to plastic surgery and other cosmetic procedures to fight the effects of aging. Additionally, patient demand for plastic surgery procedures remains high associated with illness recovery (such as breast cancer).
Hundreds of thousands of breast augmentations, eyelid surgeries, and nose reshaping procedures occur each year in the United States. That is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the plastic surgery industry. Minor procedures such as botox injections and laser treatments are also extremely popular and rising in demand, especially among women.
This consistent and growing demand for procedures is good news for anyone considering a plastic surgery nursing career. Jobs should continue to remain plentiful as more and more practices will be opening throughout the country.
Can I Go to School Online to Become a Plastic Surgery Nurse?
Online degree programs provide a flexible path for the student to earn college degrees, even in nursing. This is sometimes the best type of education for someone who needs to work full-time while also attending school, or perhaps for someone who enters the workforce straight out of high school and only decides to pursue a degree.
Online nursing programs are available for hardworking students who want to earn a degree and want to pursue one that will result in job security.
An online program that can help you achieve your RN designation is a stepping stone toward working as a plastic surgery nurse. Still, it is important to remember the educational requirements are just one of the steps. After completing a nursing degree online, you will need to gain practical work experience in the field and pass the licensing exam.
As we covered earlier, accreditation is one of the most important things to consider when looking at any program, including online programs. If you want to become an RN and go on to work in plastic surgery, you should be sure you start with a nationally accredited program.
Check out some of the best online programs for nursing degrees here.
Financial Assistance for Nursing School
Many students are overwhelmed by the costs associated with nursing education, but this should not be a roadblock that completely stops you from pursuing this education and career.
Financial aid opportunities are available to assist students in nursing programs, and you may be able to enroll with the help of these funds. As you are considering schools, whether online or in-person programs, be sure to ask about any and all financial assistance programs available. In most cases, these should be found easily on the school’s website, and you can also reach out to the financial office directly with questions.
While no one likes the idea of taking on burdensome debt, student loans can be a smart move for nursing school based on the salary prospects you have in the plastic surgery nursing job market; you would likely be able to pay off student loans in a timely fashion once employed as a plastic surgery nurse.
Associations and Memberships for Join for Plastic Surgery Nurses
Any RNs interested in plastic surgery nursing should make it a point to join relevant organizations that provide educational and networking opportunities. There are nursing associations for most specialty areas. The primary organization you should know about when it comes to plastic surgery is the International Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses.
This group works to enhance its members’ professional development through annual conferences, certification study guides, and numerous resources for its members. To join ISPAN, you must be a licensed registered nurse, and the dues are $150 per year.
The Plastic Surgical Nursing Journal published by ISPAN four times a year is an incredibly rich resource to keep plastic surgery nurses up to speed on developments in the field, with articles detailing new developments in plastic surgery procedures and patient care.
Networking with other organization members could lead to job placements and opportunities to advance in the industry and increase your salary.
The Road to Plastic Surgery Nursing: A Recap
To work as a plastic surgery nurse, you will need to earn a nursing degree (RN), be certified by your state and pass the NC-LEX exam, gain practical field experience through a plastic surgery practice, and ultimately pass a final certification with the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB). This is either the Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse (CPSN) and Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist (CANS).
This process will take many years to complete, but the payoff for that hard work is a job in a rapidly growing and exciting medical field with competitive salaries. If you are passionate about patient care and looking for a specialty area to apply your nursing skills, plastic surgery nursing is an unbeatable option.