Here is an interesting fact: Only 3.5 percent of doctors in the U.S. are truly qualified to perform aesthetic procedures. If you’re not shocked by that news, you should be. It’s one of the reasons board-certified plastic surgeons and dermatologists are calling the cosmetic enhancement industry the “wild west” of medicine as the number of doctors performing surgical procedures without the proper qualifications keeps climbing.
Even with all of the horror stories splashed across the tabloids and news affiliates about botched jobs and unqualified doctors, the unruly landscape of aspirational aesthetic beauty is only growing. “It’s becoming increasingly worse as more individual doctors are leaving managed care programs and other specialties and are entering into cosmetic procedures with little to no training” says La Jolla, CA, plastic surgeon Robert Singer, MD. “In California, as in most states, it’s legal for doctors without any appropriate and necessary training to perform cosmetic procedures. Patients think this is all being regulated, but there are no good regulations in place.”
This quote is equally applicable in the Australian context. Australian regulation is not what patients expect it to be. It is often assumed that if a doctor is performing liposuction, for instance, that he/she must be qualified. How else would they be doing it right? Well, in Australia, it is legal for any doctor to perform cosmetic surgery without formal surgical qualifications. I still have patients that are surprised to hear that. Just because a doctor is performing a procedure, does not necessarily mean that the procedure falls within their training or recognised specialty. Mind boggling as it may be, Australian patients have the right to ask questions to determine a doctor’s qualifications if it isn’t immediately clear, such as:
- What are your qualifications in cosmetic surgery? Are your qualifications recognised by the Commonwealth government? If so, how?
- Are you a Specialist Plastic Surgeon? Only Specialist Plastic Surgeons are Commonwealth accredited, trained and qualified to perform cosmetic, reconstructive and plastic surgery procedure in public and private hospitals and accredited day surgeries.
- Are you a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons (FRACS)? Only FRACS doctors have formal surgical qualifications. There are 9 specialities that surgeons can specialise in, one of which is Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (includes Cosmetic Surgery).
- Are you a Member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons?
Specialist Plastic Surgeons will normally make it very clear for patients to see that they are qualified to perform cosmetic surgery and plastic surgery procedures. If a doctor is being vague about their qualifications, and cannot prove the above, then contact the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons to assist you to find out more. Likewise, AHPRA is the national medical registration authority. AHPRA has a register of medical practitioners. You can look up your doctor’s name and see if ”
a) they are registered
b) in what specialty they are registered (mine is Plastic Surgery, which includes cosmetic surgery, and I should only practice in this specialty) – so you won’t be seeing me doing heart valve surgery or neurology!
c) do they have any conditions or reprimands?
This is all publicly available information to ensure that patients stay informed about their medical practitioner’s registration.
Like my Australian and international colleagues, I am committed to raising awareness about the issues facing patients today and their safety. Patients have the right to be fully informed. Cosmetic Surgery is elective. That means, “I want”, not “I must have”. So, you have time to research and to do your homework, not only about the procedure but importantly, about your surgeon whom you trust with your wellbeing, and even, your life.