What makes a surgeon a ‘surgeon’?

Confused by the different titles used by plastic, cosmetic and aesthetic surgeons in Australia? You aren’t alone.

The results of a survey commissioned by the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons were released today, highlighting widespread concern and confusion around the misuse of the title ‘surgeon’.

According to the survey, 93% of Australians agree that it would be easier for patients to distinguish qualified surgeons from doctors, if medical professionals were to only use their Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) title.  

92% of Australians believe that a patient’s safety is put at risk when a doctor performs surgery without having completed surgical training.  

plastic surgeon vs cosmetic surgeon

86% of Australians agree it is wrong that doctors without any surgical training are allowed to call themselves surgeons 

81% of Australians agree that the title cosmetic surgeon implies the doctor has completed surgical training. 

77% of Australians are in support of calls to ban the term ‘cosmetic surgeon’, to help patients separate doctors from qualified surgeons. 

A loophole in the current regulatory framework allows doctors who are not registered as Surgeons by AHPRA to title themselves ‘Surgeons’ and advertise cosmetic surgery. The survey of over 2,000 Australians is the latest addition to mounting evidence pointing to the need to restrict the title of ‘Surgeon’ to only doctors registered as specialist surgeons by AHPRA 

ASAPS President, Dr Naveen Somia said the peak body is calling on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), through the review of the National Law to mandate all medical practitioners to use their official AHPRA title and restrict the title Surgeon to only those registered as Surgeons by AHPRA. 

“The title of ‘cosmetic surgeon’ has no official status with the Australian Medical Board, AHPRA, Medicare or the health insurers, making banning its use a logical step,” he said.

“The use of fake and fabricated titles in cosmetic surgery by doctors not registered as Surgeons is a serious issue that requires urgent intervention in the interest of patient safety.”

The survey provided measurements of understanding and beliefs around certain terms used to describe people who perform cosmetic surgery, with a total of 2,001 responses received over a three week period in October 2019.

A qualified specialist plastic surgeon has completed not only their medical degree (indicated by the letters ‘MBBS’ in their credentials), but they have then completed an additional 7-10 years of post graduate surgical training.

For Dr Sharp, this involved serving two years in regional and metropolitan hospitals as senior house officer and principal house officer, before being accepted onto the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons’ general surgery training program. He then spent three years  training in general surgery, followed by an additional five years training under the College’s plastic surgery fellowship training program.

This training culminates in a Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (indicated by the letters ‘FRACS’ in credentials).

A RACS qualified plastic surgeon has the letters FRACS (Plast) after their name. Most plastic surgeons are members of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, which require them to comply with the societies’ codes of conduct; protecting patients and upholding world-class standards of professional conduct.

In Australia, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeon’s fellowship programs are the only surgical training programs recognised by the Medical Board, however there is no legal requirement for doctors to undergo this training in order to call themselves a ‘surgeon’. It is important to understand that if your doctor is not a registered member of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, they have not undergone the rigorous selection process, advanced surgical training and passed the clinical and theoretical examinations required to become a qualified plastic surgeon.

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