June 21, 2018

Plastic Surgery Nurse: The Ultimate Career Guide

Plastic Surgery Nurse: The Ultimate Career Guide

By: Kathleen Colduvell RN, BSN, BA, CBC

Plastic and cosmetic surgery procedures are steadily on the rise. Plastic surgery nurses work alongside the physicians before, during, and after cosmetic and plastic surgery procedures.

(Please note that plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery will be used interchangeably in this article.)

There is, however, a key difference between the terms “plastic surgery” and “cosmetic surgery”. According to the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery, plastic surgery refers to repairing defects to attempt reconstruction with a goal of a more normal appearance and function. Cosmetic surgery, on the other hand, is focused on solely enhancing one’s appearance. With that being said, nurses in this field have remarkably similar responsibilities.

Plastic surgery nurses care for patients that undergo a variety of surgical procedures such as:

  • Breast augmentation/reconstruction/reduction/enhancement
  • Liposuction
  • Body lifts
  • Hair transplant
  • Gender reassignment surgery/procedures
  • Facial Contouring: Rhinoplasty, Chin, or Cheek Enhancement
  • Skin Rejuvenation: Laser Resurfacing, Botox, Filler Treatment
  • Scar Revision Surgery
  • Congenital Defect Repair: Cleft Palate, Extremity Defect Repair
  • Burn Repair Surgery

A plastic surgery nurse can work in many various locations. Most are employed in outpatient cosmetic or plastic surgery offices, but others can work in the hospital and/or operating room. Depending on employment location this can also determine the types of procedures the nurse will assist with. For example, a plastic surgery nurse in the hospital will not likely see a microdermabrasion patient, while an office nurse would not likely assist in breast augmentation surgery.

How to become a Registered Nurse in this field

The first step in becoming a plastic surgery nurse is becoming a Registered Nurse (RN). This can happen either by obtaining a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate’s degree. Most offices and hospitals are hiring only nurses that are BSN prepared so it is highly encouraged to obtain that. Once you have completed your BSN, you can take the NCLEX-RN examination and become a Registered Nurse after you have passed.

After obtaining a nursing degree it is recommended to get several years of adult medical-surgical experience prior to transitioning to the role of a plastic surgery nurse. This is a highly competitive field and those interested will have to take additional classes and training to obtain the necessary knowledge. Unfortunately, most of the skills learned in this field are taught during on-the-job training.

Additional classes will focus on:

  • Burns
  • Liposuction
  • Post-surgical care for reconstructive surgery to the head and neck
  • Recovery and care for breast augmentation surgeries
  • Nursing care for abdominal surgical patients

What does a Plastic Surgery Nurse Make? According to payscale.com, the average pay for a Plastic Surgery Nurse is $29.06 per hour. The highest pay is $41.48/hr. It is interesting to note that some nurses in this field earn bonuses and commissions.

Despite information reported on payscale.com, there is limited information regarding specific salaries for plastic surgery/cosmetic surgery nurses. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2016, the mean hourly wage for registered nurses was $32.91 while the average annual salary was $68,450.

The BLS identifies the following as the highest paying states for nursing:

State Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage


$48.02 $101,750
Massachusetts $42.84 $89,060
Hawaii $42.75 $88,910
Oregon $41.83 $87,000
Alaska $41.56 $86,450

In the same year, the BLS ranked the highest mean annual salaries for nurses, and the top ten were in California. The top five from the list are as follows:

Metropolitan Area Hourly Mean Wage Annual Mean Wage
San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division $65.68 $136,610
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA $60.06 $124,920
Vallejo-Fairfield, CA $59.80 $124,380
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA $58.02 $120,680
Salinas, CA $57.75 $120,120

Most healthcare systems pay nurses on an hourly scale while others have a fixed annual salary, such as nurses in an office setting. Those paid on an hourly scale are able to earn overtime pay whereas salary employees would need to discuss that with the hiring committee. Nurses working in an office setting are more likely to be paid a salary wage and have fixed hours. Those working in a private office setting tend to earn the highest pay in this field.

As with all jobs in the nursing field, earning potential increases with additional education and experience. Nurses typically are awarded a raise during annual employee performance reviews. Certifications can give nurses an additional bump in their paycheck.

Regardless of workplace setting, full time and part time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution, most include the following:

  • Health insurance
  • Certification Reimbursement
  • Retirement Options
  • Family Leave of Absence
  • Maternity Leave
  • Dental Insurance
  • Vision Insurance
  • Discounts
  • Education Reimbursement
  • Attendance at nursing conferences


Nurses with experience in plastic surgery can earn a specialty certification, the Certified Plastic Surgical Nurse (CPSN), by sitting for an examination through the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB) which is part of the American Society of Plastic Surgical Nurses. In order to qualify nurses must the following criteria according to the CPSN website:

  1. Be currently licensed as a Registered Nurse in the United States, its territories or Canada, and
  2. Have a minimum of two (2) years of plastic surgical nursing experience as a registered nurse in a general staff, administrative, teaching, or research capacity within three (3) years prior to application, and
  3. Have spent at least 1,000 practice hours in plastic surgical nursing during two (2) of the preceding three (3) years.

The certification exam costs $195 for members and $295 for non-members and is offered in a variety of locations across North American throughout the year. The CPSN is valid for three years and is renewed via continuing education hours. More information regarding the CPSN certification can be found at http://psncb.org/cpsn.

The PSNCB also offers the Certified Aesthetic Nurse Specialist (CANS) certification. This encompasses a few more specialties but does still apply to plastic surgery nurses. According to the PSNCB website in order to be eligible to apply for certification, the nurse must:

  1. Be currently licensed as a Registered Nurse in the United States, its territories or Canada, and
  2. Work in collaboration or in a practice with a physician that is Board Certified within one of the following specialties: Plastic/Aesthetic Surgery, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, or Facial Plastic Surgery (ENT); and
  3. Have a minimum of two (2) years of nursing experience as a registered nurse within one of the listed Core Specialties above in a general staff, administrative, teaching, or research capacity within three (3) years prior to application, and
  4. Have spent at least one thousand (1,000) practice hours within the core specialties during the preceding two (2) years, and
  5. Have your Supervising Core Physician endorse your application.

This certification is also valid for three years and can be renewed online after submission of continuing education hours.

Career Outlook

The American Association for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery states the most common surgical procedures are:

  • Breast Augmentation
  • Liposuction
  • Abdominoplasty
  • Blepharoplasty (repair of droopy eyelids)
  • Rhinoplasty

The five most common minimally invasive procedures are:

  • Botox
  • Dermal fillers
  • Microdermabrasion
  • Laser hair removal
  • Chemical peels

American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ (ASPS) annual report states that there were 17.5 million surgical and minimally invasive procedures. Over 7.23 million Botox injections were performed which is an increase of two percent from 2016. Furthermore, approximately 290,000 patients underwent breast augmentation surgery.

Nurses are needed for all of these procedures. Cosmetic surgery continues to be on the rise and the number of surgeries increases from year to year. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted a growth of 19% in the general nursing profession between now and 2022. It is without a doubt that the demand and growth in the plastic surgery nursing field will continue to grow at a rapid rate.

Next Up: Top 15 Free Online Continuing Education Units for Nurses

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