Now, a lot of people don’t realize that there’s a significant difference between a cosmetic and a plastic surgeon. Health practitioners in Australia are regulated by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, also known as AHPRA. Each health profession that is part of the national registration and accreditation scheme is represented by a national board. There are 14 national boards of which the Australian Medical Council is one that represents medical practitioners.

The titles of medical specialties are highly regulated by the Australian Medical Council and it’s not permissible for doctors to title themselves as medical specialists in a particular field if they don’t hold appropriate qualifications. The Australian Medical Council recognises plastic surgery as a specialty practice of surgery that includes cosmetic surgery.

The Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery have made multiple submissions to the Australian Medical Council to be recognized as a specialty. However, their applications have been refused and the Australian Medical Council does not recognize “cosmetic surgeons” as a medical specialty or their college as an accredited training body.

The title “cosmetic surgeon,” therefore is not indicative of qualifications such as would be expected of a plastic surgeon. A Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery, which is the same qualifications as a general practitioner, does not qualify someone to practice in plastic surgery. However, it is currently legal for any doctor with a basic medical degree to perform surgery and call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, with no further training at all.

Specialist plastic surgeons have 12 years of extensive accredited regulated medical and surgical education and training with at least five of those years in specialist postgraduate training. We also must successfully pass rigorous exams covering the entire curriculum of plastic and cosmetic surgery.

Plastic surgery training includes both cosmetic surgery and reconstructive surgery. It is absolutely correct to say all cosmetic surgery relies on a deep and thorough expertise in the discipline of reconstructive surgery. Just as it’s true to say, all reconstructive surgery has a significant component of cosmetic surgery.

Take the example of breast surgery. Plastic surgeons are trained to operate on breasts following breast cancer where the breasts are reconstructed from scratch. They’re also trained to operate on breasts, that women want to be made fuller or larger. The same aesthetics are involved in both cases. The same anatomy is involved in both cases and the same tissues are involved in both cases.

It is impossible to be expertise in one type of surgery without some experience in the other. They are inextricably linked. The same applies for breast reduction and tummy tuck surgery. These types of operations in particular have both an aesthetic component as well as a significant functional and reconstructive component.

To the lay person, surgery performed for an aesthetic purpose may be understood as cosmetic surgery and therefore it’s easy to take the leap to assume a cosmetic surgeon is the best qualified to undertake it. However, this is not the case. Cosmetic surgery is not trivial surgery. All anesthesia and surgery carries risks and it’s vitally important that all surgeries, including all cosmetic procedures are carried out not just by appropriately qualified surgeons, but also in properly accredited facilities with an anesthetist present.

We understand that this is extremely confusing for patients considering aesthetic or cosmetic surgery. Unfortunately, legislation has not kept pace with the changes in availability of this type of surgery being performed by doctors without adequate training.

So he’s a short checklist of what you need to look for:

1. Check the qualifications of your surgeon on the AHPRA website. Your surgeon’s registration should be listed as a specialist in the field of plastic surgery.

2. Plastic surgeons will have the qualifications. FRACS after their name. This is a fellowship from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

3. A plastic surgeon will be a member, either of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons; ASPS or the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Surgery; ASAPS or both.

4. And finally checked at the hospital your surgeon works that is accredited. You can do this at the Australian Council of Healthcare Standards or ACHS website. For your surgeon to check out, they must make all four of these criteria. If they don’t, you need to understand why and reevaluate if they are the right surgeon to carry out your procedure.