How to Become a Plastic Surgery Nurse

Kristen Hamlin
Updated May 25, 2022
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This page details how to become a plastic surgery nurse, including degree and license requirements and what to expect in the field.
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Plastic surgery isn’t limited to the rich and famous. Plastic surgeons work with patients of all ages, performing both cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. The nurses who work alongside them play an important role in helping patients at every step. With a career as a plastic surgery nurse, you can help patients increase their confidence, whether or not they choose to change something about their appearance.

Learn more about the role of a plastic surgery nurse, how to become one, and what you might expect when you choose this career, including earning potential. Keep reading to find out about the role you can play in helping people look and feel their best.

What Is a Plastic Surgery Nurse?

Plastic surgery nurses work with surgeons who provide cosmetic and reconstructive surgical procedures. They care for patients before and after their surgeries, and they assist the surgeon in the operating room.

In some cases, they may perform certain nonsurgical procedures, such as administering injections of Botox or dermal fillers. Other treatments include microneedling, chemical peels, or hair restoration.

Plastic surgery nurses may work in many different settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, and private specialty practices, such as medical spas or wellness centers. The work setting often defines their specific duties.

For example, in a hospital a plastic surgery nurse may assist with procedures, assess the patient’s vital signs, and dress wounds. Nurses in private clinics might be more focused on nonsurgical procedures, patient education, and follow-up care.

Steps to Becoming a Plastic Surgery Nurse

Plastic surgery nurses are licensed nurses with clinical experience in the field. Some nurses choose to become certified plastic surgical nurses (CPSN) to demonstrate their competency and increase their career opportunities.

Most employers may also require plastic surgery nurses to get certification in basic life support and advanced cardiac life support. You can get these certifications from the American Heart Association, and they can be completed in 1-2 days.

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree.

Becoming a nurse begins with earning either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Nurse education prepares students to practice as registered nurses (RNs) through lectures, labs, and clinical experience in healthcare environments.

A BSN is a four-year nursing degree and is widely preferred by employers. Some states are even considering requiring a BSN for licensure. An ADN is a two-year degree. Nurses with an ADN can earn their BSN through an RN-to-BSN bridge program, an accelerated option that can be completed in 12-18 months.

Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure.

The National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) for nurses is a standardized test that evaluates nursing school graduates on their knowledge and skills. A NCLEX passing score is required for an RN license in all states.

Gain experience in surgical nursing.

Licensed nurses can gain experience through entry-level positions in hospitals and clinics, working with plastic surgeons. Many employers seek nurses with surgical experience, so working in an operating room can be beneficial.

A minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical experience is required for CPSN certification.

Consider becoming a certified plastic surgery nurse.

Certification is not mandatory for plastic surgery nurses, but the credential demonstrates knowledge and competence. It may be required or preferred by employers.

The CPSN designation is granted by the Plastic Surgical Nursing Certification Board (PSNCB) to licensed nurses with at least two years of plastic surgery nurse experience and 1,000 practice hours in plastic surgical nursing. Applicants must also be currently working with a board-certified plastic surgeon.

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Plastic Surgery Nurse Education

Plastic surgery nurses are licensed RNs, which requires earning a nursing degree. The fastest route is to earn an ADN, but doing so could limit career opportunities and potential for advancement.

ADN Degree

Earning an ADN fulfills the minimum qualification to take the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for an RN license.

The two-year degree prepares prospective nurses for practice and is the fastest route to becoming an RN. Credits earned toward an ADN can be transferred to another nursing program like a BSN or an RN-to-BSN program.

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    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; GPA of 2.0 or higher; ACT or SAT scores; personal essay; recommendation letters

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    Program Curriculum

    Introduction to the nursing profession, including issues and ethics in nursing; performing health assessments; microbiology; immunology; nursing for specific patient populations (maternal, pediatrics, medical-surgical)

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    Time to Complete

    Two years

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    Skills Learned

    Providing safe, high-quality patient care in collaboration with other healthcare professionals

BSN Degree

Although an ADN can qualify a prospective nurse to take the licensure exam, many employers prefer or require applicants to have a four-year nursing degree. A BSN program supports the development of critical thinking skills and advanced skills in nursing leadership, management, and nursing informatics.

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    Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA; SAT or ACT scores; personal essay; recommendation letters; volunteer experience (for some nursing schools)

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    Program Curriculum

    Nursing practice for safe, high-quality patient care; anatomy and physiology; nursing informatics; pharmacology; leadership and management; research and statistics; psychology

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    Time to Complete

    Four years (or 12-18 months with an accelerated BSN program)

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    Skills Learned

    Nursing care for adults and children; community health promotion; critical thinking and leadership skills for clinical settings; case management

Plastic Surgery Nurse Licensure and Certification

Plastic surgery nurses must be licensed RNs in the state where they wish to work. Some employers require an advanced practice nursing license, typically for positions in which nurses perform nonsurgical procedures.

Prospective nurses must have an ADN or a BSN, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, and fulfill state-specific requirements, such as a background check and fingerprinting. In all but 11 states, nurses must complete continuing education for nurses to renew their licenses.

Although certification is not mandatory, it is preferred by some employers. It can also mean more career options and the potential for higher earnings.

The PSNCB offers two certification options: the CPSN and the certified aesthetic nurse specialist. Both certifications require a valid RN license, two years of experience, and 1,000 hours of practical experience in the field.

Working as a Plastic Surgery Nurse

RNs who wish to work as plastic surgery nurses can apply to work with plastic surgeons in private practice, hospitals, or medical spa clinics. It can be advantageous to work as a medical-surgical nurse to gain experience in the operating room.

Some employers may provide on-the-job training for noninvasive treatments, or they may support nurses in seeking the additional training and certification necessary to administer these treatments. RNs can become certified to perform specific procedures through continuing education. This can increase their marketability and access to job opportunities in the field.

Responsibilities and pay for plastic surgery nurses vary by work setting. For example, a nurse in a private clinic will typically work a standard 40-hour week, while a hospital-based nurse may work 12-hour shifts, including nights and weekends.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not provide salary data for plastic surgery nurses specifically, it reports that the median salary for RNs is $77,600 per year as of May 2021. Payscale reports that in May 2022 the average hourly rate for a plastic surgery nurse is $32.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Plastic Surgery Nurse

question-mark-circleHow many years does it take to become a plastic surgery nurse?

It takes at least 2-4 years to complete the education required for a nursing license (two years for an ADN, four for a BSN). Nurses who wish to become certified need at least two years of experience working as plastic surgery nurses.

question-mark-circleWhat types of nurses work in plastic surgery?

Most plastic surgery nurses are RNs, who have skills and knowledge in cosmetic and reconstructive procedures. Some nurses opt to seek certified aesthetic nurse specialist certification, also known as cosmetic nurses.

These nurses provide noninvasive cosmetic procedures — like injections, microneedling, tattoo removal, and body contouring — in addition to working with surgeons on more invasive procedures.

question-mark-circleWhat does a plastic surgery nurse do?

Plastic surgery nurses care for patients who undergo cosmetic or reconstructive procedures. These may be elective procedures like Botox injections or more complex procedures, such as facial reconstruction after a traumatic injury or illness.

Nurses provide patient education and support, help prepare both the patients and operating rooms, assist the surgeon during operations, and provide postoperative care, including wound care. Some plastic surgery nurses also administer nonsurgical treatments.

question-mark-circleWhat degree is best to become a plastic surgery nurse?

Although it’s possible to become a plastic surgery nurse with an ADN, many employers prefer to hire licensed RNs with a bachelor’s degree.

Nationwide, there is an ongoing trend toward requiring nurses to hold advanced degrees. Research indicates better patient outcomes when nurses have bachelor’s degrees or higher, and as a result, some states are considering legislation requiring a BSN for initial licensure.

Page last reviewed May 22, 2022

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