15 Best Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs – 2024

December 12, 2023

plastic surgery schools

If you’re looking into plastic surgery schools and plastic surgery residency programs, odds are you’re either as hooked on Botched as I am or you’re ready to take the next step towards your medical career dreams. For those thinking about a career in plastic surgery, there are many good reasons to consider the specialization: according to recent data, plastic surgeons are among the most highly paid in the medical profession, have extremely high job satisfaction, and are able to lend their skills to a variety of services, from reconstructive surgeries for victims of violence or trauma to those looking to start a new chapter with an improved appearance.

To start a career in plastic surgery and get ready for your applications, you’ll need to make sure you’re up to date on the best plastic surgery schools and are aware of the programs you might want to prioritize when it’s time for your residency, the period of intensive, hands-on training after a medical student has graduated from medical school.


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Background on Plastic Surgery Training

After you finish medical school, you’ll get to choose between two types of training to become a plastic surgeon. The difference between the two types has to do with when and how a medical resident learns about the specifics of practicing plastic surgery. In the first model, called the independent model, students learn the basics (prerequisites) of surgery outside of a plastic surgery residency and then undertake a plastic surgery residency to learn the specifics of plastic surgery. In the integrated model, residents complete both kinds of training in the same program. Medical students get to decide which pathway to take depending on their interests, goals, and lifestyle, but the integrated program offers a more straightforward and easily navigated process. For this article, all of the plastic surgery schools listed offer integrated programs but it is noted when an independent program is also offered.

Criteria and Things to Consider for Plastic Surgery Schools

The rankings on this list come from a recent presentation at the Plastic Surgery Research Council conference. Rankings are based on the academic rigor of the program, the presence of the program’s faculty on the boards of medical journals, and the number of citations faculty members’ articles have gotten by the authors of other articles (showing they are well-respected in the field). When perusing this list, you might also want to pay attention to the size of the program, the location, and the interests of the faculty. The majority of the programs are 6 years, with a few variations. The typical cohort size is under 5 residents per year.

The 15 Best Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs in the U.S.

*School has both integrated and independent plastic surgery programs.

1) Harvard University*

  • Boston, Massachusetts

We’ve probably all heard of Harvard, the oldest and most prestigious school in the U.S., but did you know it’s renowned for its plastic surgery school? The school offers residents the unique opportunity to experience unique rotations in other specialties and to train in four affiliated hospitals in the Boston area.

  • 6-year program
  • 30+ faculty members
  • 24 total residents
  • Residents experience rotations in plastic surgery-related areas like anesthesia, neurosurgery, orthopedic surgery, and dermatology

2) Stanford University

  • Stanford, California

Another big name in United States schools, Stanford’s plastic surgery program ranks highly for its commitment to continued educational experiences for residents, including conferences and research projects.

  • 7-year program
  • 20 faculty members
  • 28 total residents (4 per year)
  • Strong focus on humanitarian aid and giving back

3) University of Michigan

  • Ann Arbor, Michigan

You might know UMich for its Maize and vibrant sports community, but it also houses a plastic surgery school with a strong focus on clinical research.

  • 7-year program
  • 25+ faculty members
  • 20+ residents
  • Residents spend a year without clinical responsibilities meant specifically for research and academic development

Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs (Continued)

4) University of California, Los Angeles

  • Los Angeles, California

Thinking of being a plastic surgeon to the stars? Maybe UCLA is the right place to do your plastic surgery training. This program is affiliated with eight training hospitals and prioritizes clinical experience along with curriculum.

  • 6-year program
  • 15+ faculty members
  • 18 total residents (3 per year)
  • Program offers a variety of conferences and lecture opportunities

5) University of Pennsylvania*

  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

UPenn’s integrated plastic surgery program offers the opportunity to engage in training in both cosmetic and reconstructive surgery and prioritizes the growth of residents’ leadership and management skills. Maybe while you’re in Philly, you’ll meet Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’s brother, Eagles center Jason Kelce!

  • 6-year program
  • 20+ faculty members
  • 18 residents (3 per year)
  • All final year residents spend four months as Executive Chief Residents and run the cosmetic surgery practice out of UPenn Medicine, gaining skills for independent practice

6) Washington University in St. Louis

  • St. Louis, Missouri

WashU’s plastic surgery program is based out of Barnes-Jewish Hospital, one of the United States’ best hospitals. This program is a match for you if you value technological and research advancement, specialized research topics, and mentorship.

  • 6-year program
  • 20+ faculty members
  • 3-4 residents per year
  • Post-residency fellowship opportunities for specialized areas of plastic surgery in hand surgery, microsurgery, and peripheral nerves

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7) New York University*

  • New York City, New York

Ah, the city that never sleeps. Although you’ll need your rest to succeed in this highly-ranked program. With an emphasis on research (including opportunities for tissue dissection!), this program offers a well-rounded curriculum designed to get you comfortable with a variety of areas of surgery.

  • 6-year program
  • 15+ faculty members
  • 4 residents per year
  • 15 months of core surgery rotations (breast and oncologic, abdominal and alimentary, pediatric, vascular, cardiothoracic and more), 9 months of rotations defined as “strongly recommended” (anesthesia, dermatology, otorhinolaryngology, orthopedics, and more), and 12 months of plastic and hand surgery rotations

8) Johns Hopkins University*

  • Baltimore, Maryland

This school located in Baltimore, halfway between D.C. and Philadelphia, offers more than the opportunity to eat Maryland crab. A newer program, this residency could be a match if you hope to be a leader in plastic surgery.

  • 7-year program
  • 3-4 residents per year (with noted application pool of over 300)
  • Includes a dedicated research year and training at 5 affiliated hospitals

9) University of Pittsburgh*

  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Pitt’s plastic surgery residency program is known for its rigorous self-evaluation, leading to changes and improvements in the program. For example, residents are evaluated based on their skills versus the time spent in the program due to the school’s focus on “competency-based” training.

  • 5- or 6-year program, depending on resident progress
  • 25+ faculty members
  • 3-7 residents per year
  • Cutting-edge laboratories and optional research year in the middle of the program

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10) Duke University

  • Durham, North Carolina

This program, one of the oldest in the country, has a focus on diversity and elite training in a welcoming community.

  • 6-year program
  • 3-4 residents per year
  • 20+ faculty members
  • Opportunity to work within trauma care at Duke University Hospital, a Level One Trauma Center

11) Ohio State University*

  • Columbus, Ohio

With strong foundational surgical training and rotations in four medical settings, this program offers an excellent plastic surgery residency program right in the heart of Ohio! (Go Buckeyes!)

  • 6-year program
  • 4 residents per year
  • 25+ faculty members
  • Rotations last four weeks and cover all areas of plastic surgery

12) University of Cincinnati*

  • Cincinnati, Ohio

This Ohio school is known for its commitment to teamwork and community, with an individualized focus that tailors the program to each resident. 50% of residents continue their educations with fellowships following their completion of the program.

  • 6-year program
  • About 10 total residents (very small program)
  • Focus on simulated surgery technology for training

Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs (Continued)

13) University of California San Francisco

  •  San Francisco, California

If a plastic surgery residency program in the rolling hills of Northern California appeals to you, you might consider UC San Francisco.

  • 6-year program
  • 3 residents per year
  • 9 faculty members
  • Academic development and research year between third and fourth clinical years and training at 8 affiliated sites

14) Emory University*

  • Atlanta, Georgia

Emory takes Southern hospitality seriously, and even its plastic surgery school is focused on community and friendliness. Seven affiliated medical sites offer broad opportunities for training.

  • 6-year program
  • 2-4 residents per year
  • 10+ faculty members
  • Focus on innovative surgical techniques

15) Cleveland Clinic*

  • Cleveland, Ohio

You might only know the Cleveland Clinic from your Google search about your mysterious medical symptoms, but this is a renowned medical facility offering more than just articles diagnosing you with potential illnesses. Cleveland Clinic is known for its innovation (a face transplant!) and technological advancements.

  • 6-year program
  • 4-5 residents per year
  • 15+ faculty members
  • Ideal for residents interested in advancing medical care in innovative ways and who may want to pursue teaching themselves

*School has both integrated and independent plastic surgery programs.

Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs (Continued)

Plastic Surgery Schools & Residency Programs – Final Thoughts

As you work to further your interests in plastic surgery, remember that this is not an exhaustive list of elite plastic surgery schools. Programs are ranked for different reasons, and it’s important to keep in mind what is most appealing to you in a residency program. And remember—the road to becoming a plastic surgeon (or any kind of doctor!) is a long and competitive one, but the statistics say it is well worth it!

Many of the schools on this list are affiliated with world-renowned teaching hospitals and are home to some of the best surgeons in the world, and you’ll learn from the pros. Specializing in plastic surgery offers a unique chance to get involved in cutting-edge research and technology, to help people of all ages overcome personal challenges, and to be part of an emerging field that has cross-over with lots of other areas of medicine. Your journey in plastic surgery is sure to be exciting. From emergency medicine and reconstructive surgery to pediatric care and cosmetic services, the possibilities are endless!

Additional Resources – Plastic Surgery Schools in the US