difference between cosmetic and plastic surgeon

According to a report in the February issue of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, a study undertaken by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) has revealed widespread confusion around the titles ‘plastic surgeon’ and ‘cosmetic surgeon’.

In Australia, the Medical Board only recognises the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) as the training body for qualified surgeons. Upon completion of this training, the surgeons display the letters FRACS as their credentials, the ‘F’ standing for ‘Fellow’. However many doctors who have not undergone RACS training and examination, still openly call themselves ‘surgeons’, despite not having RACS qualifications.

Cosmetic surgery is no different to other surgery; it carries a risks of infection, complications, nerve injury and adverse anaesthetic events. And yet the study results showed significant misperceptions about the qualifications needed to perform this type of surgery:

  • 87% of respondents believed that surgeons must have special credentials and training to perform cosmetic surgery, or to advertise themselves as aesthetic/cosmetic/plastic surgeons.
  • More than half of respondents were unsure about the training needed to become a board certified plastic or cosmetic surgeon.
  • Most respondents stated their discomfort with specialists other than plastic surgeons performing surgery to improve their appearance.

Here are some facts to help clarify the status of ‘cosmetic’ and ‘plastic’ surgeons in Australia:

  • Plastic surgeons are also called ‘plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic - or aesthetic - surgeons’ because they have undergone advanced training in major public and private hospitals under a traineeship with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in plastic, reconstructive and cosmetic fields of surgical study; under the supervision and mentorship of experienced and RACS qualified surgeons.
  • This training process generally takes 10 years from completion of medical school until the final obtainment of ‘fellowship’ qualifcations.
  • Doctors can call themselves ‘cosmetic’ surgeons even if they don’t have the aforementioned credentials, supervision, experience or training.
  • In Australia, doctors who do not have FRACS credentials cannot perform medically-required aesthetic procedures such as breast reductions, abdominoplasty, rhinoplasty or labioplasty surgery under the coverage of the Medicare Benefits Schedule. Patients cannot receive the applicable Medicare or private health fund rebates if they do not have the surgery with a RACS qualified surgeon.
  • If you have a complication following your surgery, or require further revisional surgery, your RACS qualified surgeon has the expertise to perform these procedures, and you may have some of your costs covered by Medicare or your private health fund (if you are insured).
  • You can find out if your surgeon is a RACS qualified surgeon by visiting their database here.

The results of this study form yet another reminder of the importance of research when choosing a surgeon. Being informed about the training, examination and ongoing professional development that your surgeon has been required to undertake before performing your procedure is an integral part of the decision process.

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