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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 history.

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.

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