How did all the variables and diverse areas come together under one field of Plastic Surgery? It started following World War I. A number of soldiers would have died from their wounds lived but were left with terrible injuries and deformities. There were no good solutions for most of these problems. Therefore, a group of British and American surgeons began analyzing and experimenting on the best way to repair or reconstruct these deformities. Frequently there were missing or lost appendages including facial structures. So questions such as, how does one rebuild a nose, or best repair a burned area, or create an opposable digit so that you have a useful hand, all became problems that were approached with imagination and skill. The present day plastic surgeons owe so much to these early pioneers.
World War II produced even more injuries but certain standard repairs were becoming increasingly commonplace. A number of general surgeons were intrigued and fascinated by these problems. So the real unifying factor between each of these areas is the fact that each subject that plastic surgery deals with was at one time a medical problem with no good solution and only with curious, bright and dedicated surgeons do the answers slowly unfold. Plastic surgery became its own field. In time surgeons realized the same set of skills that enabled them to repair war victims and accident victims could be used for cosmetic surgery as well.
The terms plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery these days have become essentially interchangeable. The reason it was initially called plastic surgery came not from the ubiquitous polyurethanes and polyethylenes that are so much of our modern life, but from the Greek word, plastikos, which means to model or to mold. Among the things plastic surgeons are able to do include repairing missing or injured areas, repairing large wounds secondary either to accidents, or the need to remove cancers, and correcting congenital deformities such as cleft lips. Cleft lip repairs have become so good they are frequently very difficult to spot. One surgeon, Ralph Millard, M.D. was especially responsible for that. He noted that in a cleft lip all the parts were there they were just smaller and mislocated, and the art was to reassemble the puzzle so that the muscles were repaired and each of the pieces fit together in the correct manner.
So, one can see that plastic surgery has nothing to do with the insertion of plastic material into the body. In fact, the reason plastic is called plastic, is for this very same characteristic, the fact that it can be modeled or molded into almost any shape. What plastic surgery does do is it is able to repair victims of injuries, correct birth defects, and reconstruct bones or wounds that have been injured.