Plastic Surgeon vs. Cosmetic Surgeon: Decoding FRACS in Australia

Disclaimer: This article is designed to enhance your knowledge, not to undermine any medical professional. Its intent is to assist potential patients in making informed decisions regarding the expertise of surgeons. Ultimately, you should be confident in the qualifications of your selected surgeon.

In many professions, individuals have the flexibility to delve into various fields. Yet, analogous to how a plumber, despite potentially having the knowledge, isn’t legally allowed to fix an electrical socket without the necessary licensure, the medical field also has its boundaries.

A rising number of medical professionals venture beyond their foundational training, ranging from simple procedures like skin cancer removal to intricate cosmetic surgeries like breast augmentations. The allure of aesthetic surgeries has captivated many.

However, one might presume that, like other professionals, medical practitioners must be licensed for specific surgical procedures. This assumption doesn’t entirely hold true in the realm of cosmetic surgery.

Who Can Claim the Title of ‘Surgeon’?

In Australia, the Australian Medical Council strictly regulates medical specialty titles. It’s impermissible for doctors to designate themselves as specialists without the requisite qualifications. Various surgical specialties, such as plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial surgery, general surgery, and orthopaedic surgery, are recognized. However, ‘cosmetic surgery’ isn’t designated as a surgical specialty.

What this entails is that while a basic medical degree qualifies one as a GP in Australia, it also permits them to perform surgeries, given patient consent. Since ‘Cosmetic Surgery’ isn’t a designated specialty, any registered medical professional can use the title ‘cosmetic surgeon.’ Yet, only those with specialised training can call themselves ‘plastic surgeons.’ This distinction is why you might see terms like ‘cosmetic surgeon’ and ‘plastic surgeon, or specialist plastic surgeon’ often followed by the FRACS designation. The latter signifies additional training in Plastic Surgery via the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

A Qualified Plastic Surgeon

After completing foundational medical degrees and gaining hands-on experience through internships and residencies, a select few in Australia are admitted into the plastic surgery training program or SET. This program spans at least five years. Any specialist surgeon in Australia, regardless of their specialty, will be a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) and will have undergone their specialty-specific SET program, meeting unique regulations and training durations.

Considering Cosmetic Surgery? What You Need to Know

Technically, anyone who performs cosmetic surgery can be termed a ‘Cosmetic Surgeon.’ Since cosmetic surgery isn’t a specialty, you don’t need extensive surgical training to practise, provided patient consent is given. Some cosmetic surgeons may not have completed formal RACS training. To address this, the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgeons was established to offer training tailored to cosmetic surgical practices.  It is important to note that this college is not part of the formal Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS).  

Qualified plastic surgeons with the FRACS credential have undergone rigorous training via the RACS. The College ensures the highest standards across all specialties, with core competencies spanning medical expertise, judgement, technical expertise, professionalism, ethics, and more. Notably, the manual dexterity required in surgeries is only a fraction of a surgeon’s expertise.

From the lens of breast surgery, qualified plastic surgeons possess comprehensive expertise, encompassing cosmetic to reconstructive procedures. Every patient presents a unique challenge, and a holistic approach often involves multidisciplinary teams.

For the broader health community, plastic and reconstructive surgeons play pivotal roles in both private and public sectors. They frequently collaborate with multidisciplinary teams for comprehensive care. Moreover, their commitment extends to clinical audits, ongoing education, research, and mentoring future professionals.

Your Process to Choosing the Right Surgeon

When considering surgery,  a critical element is trust. By understanding the differences and credentials in the field, you can make informed decisions and select a surgeon aligned with your needs, priorities and comfort.

Factors to Consider in Your Selection

1. Qualifications: Always ensure your surgeon has the necessary credentials. If considering cosmetic surgery, understanding the difference between a cosmetic surgeon and a qualified plastic surgeon (FRACS) is vital. Remember, not all surgeons have undergone the rigorous training associated with the FRACS designation.

2. Experience: Beyond qualifications, experience matters. Ask about the number of procedures they’ve done, specifically the one you’re considering. Experienced surgeons tend to be more adept at handling complications and achieving desired outcomes.

3. Before-and-After Portfolio: A surgeon’s portfolio provides a visual testament to their work. Reviewing before-and-after photos can give you an idea of their aesthetic style and results. Make sure the photos are consistent and meet your expectations.

4. Initial Consultation: This meeting is your opportunity to gauge your comfort level with the surgeon. It’s essential to feel heard and understood. Use this time to ask questions, express concerns, and get a feel for the clinic’s environment and potential support network you would have access to in the perioperative phase.

5. Hospital Privileges: Surgeons with hospital privileges undergo evaluations for competency. This also means they can treat you in a hospital if any complications arise.

6. Continued Professional Development: The medical field is ever-evolving. Ensure your chosen surgeon is updated with the latest techniques, technology, and research in their field.

7. Transparent Pricing:  While cost shouldn’t be the sole determining factor, understanding the full scope of surgical, hospital and anaesthetics fees, including post-operative care, is essential. A transparent pricing structure helps you plan without unexpected costs.

8. Intuition: Lastly, trust your gut feeling. If something feels off or if you’re uncomfortable with a surgeon for any reason, it might be worth considering another option.

Key Considerations When Selecting a Surgeon

While qualifications are a significant marker of a surgeon’s training, they aren’t the sole indicator of a surgeon’s aptitude or suitability for your specific needs. A surgeon’s proficiency, work ethic, and interpersonal skills can vary widely, regardless of their formal education.

Remember, every surgical procedure, whether cosmetic or otherwise, has lasting implications. Especially with cosmetic procedures, which are typically pursued for enhancement rather than medical necessity, the stakes are incredibly high. The objective isn’t just to treat or cure, but to positively change and transform. This places a great onus on making well-informed decisions. Speaking as a fully credentialed plastic surgeon, I hold this responsibility in the highest regard. Every patient’s safety, satisfaction, and overall well-being is my top priority. I pledge to consistently offer top-tier, conscientious care to everyone I serve.

If you’re contemplating a surgical journey and seek guidance, clarification, or a second opinion, please reach out for a consultation. I’m here to assist and guide you every step of the way.This article draws insights from the Lawyers Alliance piece titled “Cosmetic Vs Plastic Surgery”. For a deeper understanding,  The original article can be read and seen here. We recommend reading it for comprehensive insights on this subject.