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One of the things that make humans unique is our constant drive toward
self improvement. Humans have always sought self fulfillment through improving
themselves in all kinds of ways.
It is interesting to note that history cites medical treatment for facial
injuries dating back more than 4,000 years. As far back as 800 B.C., physicians
in ancient India were already using skin grafts for reconstructive purposes.
However, progress in the area of plastic surgery moved very slowly for
several hundreds of years. It wasn’t until the 19th and 20th centuries
that large steps forward were made in the area of plastic surgery.
Dr. John Peter Mettauer, born in Virginia in 1787, was America’s
first notable plastic surgeon. In 1827, with instruments he designed himself,
Dr. Mettauer performed the first cleft palate operation in the New World.
Not surprisingly, the driving force behind a great many progressions
in the speciality of plastic surgery during the 1800s and early 1900s
was war. Because multiple wars during this period in history resulted
in a large number of serious injuries to soldiers and sometimes civilians,
plastic surgery was thrown into a new and higher realm. Shattered jaws,
blown off noses and lips, gaping skull wounds, and many other extensive
external injuries caused by modern weapons prompted the development innovative
restorative techniques by physicians. Some of the most skilled medical
talents in Europe, Russia, and the United States devoted themselves to
restoring the faces and lives of their countrymen during this period in
Despite many misconceptions, the word “plastic” in plastic
surgery does not mean artificial, but is derived from an ancient Greek
work called “plastikos” meaning to mold or give form. Plastic
surgery includes both reconstructive and aesthetic subspecialities.
In spite of great leaps in progress in the plastic surgery discipline
during and after World War I, the profession was still poorly defined
in the American medical establishment during the 1920s. Specializing physicians
had no way to share their innovations with other interested physicians
across the country, so they needed to form a formal, professional organization.
The seeds of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons can be found in
the establishment of another plastic surgery organization, the American
Association of Oral Surgeons in 1921. However the American Association
of Oral Surgeons only accepted individuals as members who had both medical
and dental degrees. Doctors who were limited from joining this organization
plotted instead to form their own, slightly less restrictive organization,
and so the American Society of Plastic Surgeons was born in 1931 during
the month of October with only 10 charter members.
During the 1940s plastic surgery procedures continued to progress as
physicians served their country during the World War II by treating severely
wounded soldiers, sailors, and airmen. The ASPS played a large role in
the development of new techniques because it allowed physicians to share
their knowledge and ideas with each other. By the 1950s plastic surgery
was fully integrated into the American medical society.
During the 1950s and 1960s, new advancements in plastic surgery were
being made at break-neck pace. By this time plastic surgery had become
more prominent in the minds of the American public. Silicone also emerged
as a tool for plastic procedures during this time period.
The early 1970s began with plastic surgeons moving to the forefront of
the medical profession. It was becoming apparent that any and all parts
of the human body could benefit from the plastic surgery speciality. However,
the 1970s also marked conflict with the government and the Federal Trade
Commission over various issues. Even though the FTC didn’t win its
battle with the medical community, plastic surgeons got the FTC’s
message: Operate more like a reputable business for the good of your patients.
By the 1990s there were more than 5000 Board Certified Surgeons operating
in the United States. Innovations in the field were being made quicker
than ever before and many surgeons were becoming involved in research
or volunteer work in their communities and overseas.
During this time silicone implants came under fire by the Food and Drug
Administration due to complications patients were experiencing from their
surgeries. Although most individuals with silicone breast implants were
satisfied and remained free of complications, the ones who did have complications
ended up severely deformed in many cases with a few cases that even resulted
in death. These issues eventually prompted the development and use of
saline implants at the discretion of the physician and patient.
Today plastic surgery is more prominent than ever before and safer as
well. Many people are finding fulfillment through surgical techniques
despite what the negative media would have us believe. Plastic surgeons
continue to make advancements in their field and more people can expect
to be helped and healed in the years to come.