It is often assumed that hand surgeons are orthopedic surgeons, however, this is not always the case and the definition of a "hand surgeon" slightly varies with each type of hand surgeon.
1. Orthopedic Surgery Hand Surgeon - The most common type of hand surgeon is a board certified orthopedic surgeon who, in addition to five years of orthopedic surgery training, has completed one to two years of hand surgery fellowship training. In addition to hand and wrist specialty training, orthopedic hand surgeons receive specialized training in elbow surgery. They are considered finger-to-elbow experts and are able to fix ALL musculoskeletal injuries and conditions that can affect hand, wrist, and elbow.
2. Plastic Surgery Hand Surgeon - Board certified plastic surgeons can complete one to two year hand surgery fellowship to practice hand and wrist surgery. Although, they are not trained to fix hand and wrist fractures during their plastic surgery residency, they learn this skill during their hand surgery fellowship. They are not qualified to repair orthopedic-related injuries above the wrist. However, they are considered experts in skin grafting and flap surgery.
3. General Surgery Hand Surgeon - Just like plastic surgeons, board certified general surgeons can complete one to two year hand surgery fellowship to practice hand and wrist surgery. They are not trained to fix hand and wrist fractures during their general surgery residency and learn this skill during their hand surgery fellowship. They are not qualified to repair orthopedic-related injuries above the wrist. However, they are very skilled in vascular injury repairs.
Depending on your comfort level and needs, you may want to inquire about your hand surgeon's residency training. You will want to choose a hand specialist who is board certified, which means that in addition to orthopedic, plastic, or general surgery board certification, the hand specialist has passed a rigorous certifying examination in the subspecialty of hand surgery. Only those hand surgeons who pass this certifying examination can become members of the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.