What is Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery?

By John R Taylor, MD

Plastic Surgery is the art and science of surgical repair and restoration of damaged and abnormal body parts, to restore function and appearance.

Plasticos, (Gr), plasticus (L) are ancient words meaning molding or shaping. Plastic is an idea, also a material, which is shaped. Used as an adjective, “plastic” describes the discipline of surgery, which focuses on the many techniques to restore, rebuild, and repair the body.

Plastic Surgery is an ancient surgical specialty. Several thousand years ago, amputation was used as a cruel punishment. Surgeons rebuilt body parts to restore normalcy, and acceptance in society to reduce social stigma for these outcasts. At a time when Europeans were subsisting by hunting and farming, subcontinent surgeons were developing a method of rebuilding noses using the patient’s forehead.

At the time of Henry VIII, Italian surgeons were secretly transferring arm skin to rebuild noses. These methods required the transferred skin be attached for a time to allow a new blood supply to be picked up by the recipient. Then the flap would live on its own after being detached, and what tissue was not needed set back into the place it came from.

Predictable, safe anesthesia in the last century allowed a revolution in plastic surgery, as longer, more complex operations could be done painlessly and safely.

The destructiveness of the World Wars, promoted advances in reconstructive surgery for those who survived their injuries. In the 1930s plastic surgeons began treating many industrial hand injuries using tissue transfer techniques to save and salvage damaged hands.

Microsurgery produced tremendous advances in Plastic Surgery. For the first time major pieces of tissue could be moved from one part of the body to the other at one operation without the need for many surgical stages. This required the development of a predictable way to repair blood vessels as small as 1 millimeter in diameter and carry blood flow reliably. This requires research, training and practice. It also requires a high investment in time and money. It is the rocket science of surgery.
Damaged nerves can be repaired using microsurgical techniques to restore movement and sensation.

Craniofacial surgery is done to rebuild faces and skulls deformed by birth defects or accidents. This highly skilled work is truly life changing.

Plastic Surgeons also treat skin cancer and burns.

Aesthetic surgery is an important part of plastic surgery. There are two varieties. Restoring an appearance toward that of an earlier time in life, or making a new appearance. Aesthetic surgery is as demanding and skilled as any other kind of plastic surgery. All types of plastic surgery require an astute understanding of human nature in order to predict the patient’s likely reaction and acceptance of the repair procedures.

Plastic surgery is new, innovative and always changing. The forefront of change requires research and plenty of it. This requires funding, laboratories and technical support. The results however are gratifying and applicable almost immediately.
Plastic Surgery trainees are highly selected to be amongst best the profession has to offer. They not only learn how to operate but how to think. Trainees have to love variety as every operation is different. Trainees have to learn to design operations and predict surgical results, and not everyone can do this, so the trainee selection process is arduous; both academic and practical. After fulfilling the training requirements come the examinations in Plastic Surgery set by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. It is rigourous and fair. Only then can the trainee can call him or herself a Plastic Surgeon.
This is Plastic Surgery. Dynamic, changing to suit needs and solve problems, with a proud history.

Welcome to our specialty website.

History of Plastic Surgery

History of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons
The “History of the Canadian Society of Plastic Surgeons” by Dr. Leith G. Douglas was published in 1983 and covers the history of this Society from its founding in 1947 until 1982.

The Gillies Archives
A large archive detailing the activities of Sir Harold Gillies, one of the forefathers of modern Plastic Surgery.

National Archives of Plastic Surgery
The National Archives of Plastic Surgery is the largest repository in the United States devoted to documenting the history of plastic surgery.