Book Reviews: Preparing for the Plastic Surgery In-Service Exam

by Jordan Frey, MD & Sammy Sinno, MD

Each year, every plastic surgery resident nationwide sits down to take the Plastic Surgery In-Service Exam, a multiple-choice examination administered by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Traditionally, there were four sections of the test, each with 50 questions: Comprehensive, Hand and Lower Extremity, Craniomaxillofacial, and Breast and Cosmetic. In 2016, a new section was introduced, Core Surgical Principles, which will begin to count toward the exam grade in 2017. The exam is always a source of stress for residents who have a demanding schedule filled with clinical, administrative, and research responsibilities on top of which they must prepare for this important test. Complicating things, there exist a plethora of study materials from which to choose. An excellent resource is the Resident Education Center of the Plastic Surgery Education Network (, to which all residents should make sure they are enrolled. Further, all residents should review old In-Service Exam questions (available on the ACAPS website However, supplementing with book review is imperative to any study plan. Given the limited time for study available in our busy schedules, time must be maximized by using the best and most efficient review materials available. With this in mind, we discuss below the most commonly utilized review books to help current and future residents plan their In-Service studying.

Grabb & Smith’s Plastic Surgery by Dr. Charles Thorne

We begin with a book that many consider one of, if not the, seminal text in plastic surgery. At 976 pages in the seventh edition, Grabb and Smith’s should be undertaken in chunks over a sizeable period of time. Every topic in plastic surgery is more than adequately covered in a written format (rather than an outline or question/answer format) and is accompanied by likely the best photographs and figures of any review source mentioned herein. A major strength of Grabb and Smith’s in general are the technical pearls discussed in detail by the impressive list of section authors. However, these aspects are often covered more in depth than is required to know for the In-Service Exam. While Grabb and Smith’s Plastic Surgery is a must read for residents of all levels, if you find yourself a month or two away from the In-Service and need a full review of all topics, we advise using one of the sources listed below that are a bit more speedy to cover.

Essentials of Plastic Surgery by Dr. Jeffrey Janis

Essentials of Plastic Surgery may be the most commonly used plastic surgery review book, both for general review prior to going to the operating room and for the In-Service Exam.  This is for good reason! Covering all major topics in plastic surgery in an accessible and easy to follow outline format, Dr. Janis also includes numerous clinical photographs and drawings that enhance understanding of difficult concepts. Each point made is well developed to ensure understanding. If there is any downside of this book as a review material for the In-Service, it is its length at 1367 (smaller) pages for the second edition. For interns or junior residents, we feel this is the best book with which to begin. Start reading early in the year to make sure you finish the entire book before the exam date. Dr. Janis and Dr. Jones also published an Essentials of Plastic Surgery Q&A Companion that presents information in a question/answer board review format that is an excellent enhancement to the main text.

Michigan Manual of Plastic Surgery by Drs. David Brown, Gregory Borschel, and Benjamin Levi

This book is a great starter for medical students interested in plastic surgery, sub-interns rotating on their away rotations, as well as residents. While the book is manageable at 624 pages, topics are not discussed in quite as much detail as in Essentials of Plastic Surgery. Although it is an excellent resource, it tends to fall in-between the more comprehensive review books and the more expeditious reads that are reviewed below.

Plastic Surgery Review: A Study Guide for the In-Service, Written Board, and Maintenance of Certification Exams by Dr. Gregory Lakin

Plastic Surgery Review is a serviceable review source at a very reasonable 235 pages. Each topic is presented in an outline format reviewing major points. At times, topics can be covered in too superficially without going into enough depth to explain connections between concepts or techniques. Even more concise than the Michigan Manual of Plastic Surgery, this is a review book that is better suited for a more senior resident who does not need a completely comprehensive study source and is looking to cover topics expeditiously in the time leading up to the exam.

Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery Board Review by Drs. Samuel Lin and John Hijjawi

Of all of the purely review books discussed so far (excluding Grabb and Smith’s Plastic Surgery), this is the most comprehensive! At 950 pages, it is a long, but relatively easy, read. Each section on a specific topic is generally only ten to fifteen pages and is very manageable. If you can get through the entire book, you will feel very well prepared for the exam. It is organized in a question/answer format and hits major points without getting bogged down in minutia that is generally not the focus of the In-Service Exam. Designed as a review book for the plastic surgery boards, it attains just the right level of detail and each topic is well fleshed out; no important point is glossed over or forgotten. Especially helpful, there is an approximately 100 page concluding section dedicated to high-yield questions/answers that is a must-read in the days leading up to the exam date.


We hope that you find this book review as a helpful guide to assist in your preparation and wish you the best of luck on next year’s Plastic Surgery In-Service Exam!


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