I am often asked the difference between a Cosmetic Surgeon and a Specialist Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon. Understandably there is a lot of confusion surrounding this matter and patients are often provided with conflicting information.

Doctors can only become specialised surgeons once they have completed several years of strictly monitored surgical training. A typical example of what a doctor must undertake to become a Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon is summarised below.

1. Complete a 6 year University Degree (MBBS), then spend 1 year as an Intern in public hospital (Obtain medical registration)

2. Complete 2 years as a Junior Resident in a public hospital, successfully completing “Part I Surgical Examination” consisting of a written exam in anatomy, physiology and pathology and a practical examination of basic surgical skills. The exam is the first step to learning a surgeon.

3. Following this the doctor will spend 2 years in surgical training as a registrar. During this period of basic surgical training the doctor will be performing simple operations while supervised. Their attitude, surgical and organizational abilities are assessed. Following the required surgical experience doctors must now also undertake a year of research.

4. Having completed all of the above the doctor can then apply for a formal training position in their chosen specialty. Positions in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery are highly sought after and only the very best surgical candidates will reach their goal.

5. As a training registrar in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery the doctor works for 4 years in at least 6 different plastic surgery units. Under the supervision of a number of highly qualified and experienced plastic surgeons the trainee will confidently perform a full range of surgery and professionally manage emergencies, complications and patient aftercare.

6. On completion of this four year training program the doctor must then successfully complete “The Part II” surgical examination. This is a comprehensive and searching examination that most surgeons describe as the worst experience of their lives. It is designed to ensure the surgeon can “think on their feet”, has a second nature knowledge of the physiology, anatomy and pathology of the human body and can construct surgical strategies for the most simple to the most complicated of problems.

7. Once the doctor has completed all of the above and the College of Surgeons Training Committee is confident in their ability as a surgeon, the doctor is then awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS). The newly qualified Plastic Surgeon can now also become a member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS).

Plastic Surgeons have a wider and far more extensive range of surgical techniques and a more comprehensive view of the human body. Plastic surgery is a specialty in which difficult reconstructive problems require innovative solutions. This understanding is carried over into cosmetic surgery to give the patient superior long-term results rather than expensive “quick fixes”.

The recent inquiry into cosmetic surgery in NSW recommended the appropriate qualification to perform cosmetic surgery is the FRACS or its equivalent. Some cosmetic surgeons have undertaken no formal surgical qualification nor have they had their knowledge tested in any examination or passed any professional critical review before beginning practice.

The ACCC has just produced a Summary Guide to the Trade Practices Act 1974 for the advertising or promotion of medical and health services. This guide includes tips for consumers on interpreting advertising and selection of medical and health services. You can download of copy from the ACCC website (www.accc.gov.au) or drop into our clinic and pick one up.

Complications can occur and do occur in all forms of surgery. If admission to hospital is required following a Day Surgery Centre procedure, the question to ask is, does your surgeon have admitting rights to a hospital? Private hospitals can be expensive for uninsured patients. Only surgeons with appropriate qualifications have admitting rights to public hospitals.