Documentary shines spotlight on use of the title ‘surgeon’

28 Oct 2021

The AMA renewed calls to tighten rules on using the term ‘surgeon’, following an ABC Four Corners episode on safety concerns around cosmetic surgery.  

The AMA said in a media release the title ‘surgeon’ should be reserved for medical practitioners who have obtained specialist medical college accreditation. It objects to the use of the term ‘cosmetic surgeon’ where a practitioner is not recognised as a surgical specialist.  

Only medical practitioners with a Fellowship from an Australian Medical Council (AMC) accredited specialist medical college, whose training program includes a surgical component relevant to their field of expertise, should be allowed to use the ‘surgeon’ title. 

AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the term ‘cosmetic surgeon’ or ‘podiatric surgeon’ can mislead patients into believing they are dealing with a medical practitioner who has formal and specific surgical qualifications when in fact they may not. 

Dr Khorshid said the loophole needs closing and health ministers needed to act.  

“Many Australians will be shocked to know you can call yourself a cosmetic surgeon without any specific surgical training whatsoever as there’s no restriction on the use of the term ‘surgeon’ by doctors or by other health practitioners,” Dr Khorshid said.  

Health ministers have been consulting on reforms to the regulatory scheme governing all health practitioners in Australia since July 2018. They supported restrictions to the use of titles ‘surgeon’ and ‘cosmetic surgeon’ but announced that further consultation was needed. 

The AMA supports this reform and urges health ministers to finally complete the work they began more than three years ago.  

“Safe surgery requires high levels of training—there are no short cuts. To protect the public, anyone using the term ‘surgeon’ must be a medical practitioner who has had the appropriate qualifications and credentialling that guarantees a minimum level of training and expertise as well as oversight of standards of practice and ethical behaviour. 

“Surgery is as successful as it is because of the education and training processes, the regulatory processes, and because Colleges set standards and hold their members to account.

“The National Law needs to change so it’s clear to patients that anyone using the title surgeon can only do so because they are a medical practitioner who has met and continues to meet the standards necessary for Fellowship of the relevant surgical college,” Dr Khorshid said. 

The AMA’s call to tighten use of the term ‘surgeon’ has prompted the Minister for Health to re-invigorate a review covering who can use the title.