Selecting Your Surgeon – Buyer Beware
What should you look for in a surgeon to perform your plastic or cosmetic surgery?
Your choice of surgeon is an important part of your decision to undertake plastic or cosmetic surgery. Before you commit to a surgical procedure or clinic, check some details first. The most important thing to recognise is the difference between a plastic surgeon and a doctor who calls themselves a cosmetic surgeon.
Medical training and qualifications
All surgery is serious and carries risk. Make sure you check your surgeon’s qualifications, and whether their training is fully accredited by the Australian Medical Council (AMC). This is the only Government-mandated body in Australia that can accredit specialist surgical training.
Your surgeon should have FRACS after their name. This stands for Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons. Similar letters may be used but they can mean very different things, so take care not to be misled. Doctors with basic medical degrees have been able to call themselves cosmetic surgeons in most states of Australia until recently. You should choose a doctor with recognised training to give you your best results and manage any complications that may occur.
AMC accredited Plastic Surgeons
Surgeons who display the logo of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) are accredited by the AMC to perform plastic, cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. This means they have undertaken, on average, an additional seven to ten years of AMC accredited training after receiving their basic medical degree. ‘Specialist Plastic Surgeon’ is the highest level of training available in plastic and cosmetic surgery. All members of ASPS are Specialist Plastic Surgeons, and are entitled to use the letters FRACS(Plas) after their name.
Specialist Plastic Surgeons are trained in a broad range of cosmetic and reconstructive procedures and are at the forefront of surgical and non-surgical cosmetic solutions. Reconstructive surgery requires skills and the knowledge of latest innovations and techniques that would be beyond the training of other surgeons. Members of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons are required to fulfill continuing education requirements that include maintenance of clinical standards and innovations in patient safety.
What is the legislation regarding cosmetic surgery?
The lack of regulation in cosmetic surgery was first formally identified as a problem in the 1999 NSW Cosmetic Surgery Inquiry. This inquiry was headed by Associate Professor Merrilyn Walton, the founding Commissioner for the NSW Health Care Complaints Commission
Over the last few years, the newspapers have been reporting on the poor outcomes of cosmetic doctors without AMC recognised surgical training. Some of these surgeons and clinics now face class actions against them. This created enough pressure for AHPRA (Australian Health Provider Regulation Agency) to investigate the practice of cosmetic surgery, both by legitimate surgeons and by doctors who do not have recognised surgical training. The investigation resulted in several guidelines being published in July 2023. Some of those guidelines have been a good step in protecting patient safety, and some new guidelines have been totally unhelpful.
Of importance to patients seeking the right surgeon for their cosmetic operation is the incoming change to the use of the term ‘surgeon’ to be restricted to only doctors with AMC recognised surgical training, and the new requirement to provide “clear and unambiguous information about their qualifications and type of medical registration”. Information must include the medical practitioner’s registration number and whether they hold general registration or specialist registration, including recognised specialty and field of specialty practice (if applicable). See the end of the article for the way this information needs to be provided on all forms of advertising or communication.
So how do you find a fully trained surgeon for your operation?
Your two best assets for checking your doctor’s training are the AHPRA and ASPS websites.
Your first step should be a visit to the AHPRA website.
You should be looking for Registration type > Specialist > Surgeon > Plastic Surgeon. There are other surgical specialties that are adequately trained to do some cosmetic procedures, but no other specialty covers the breadth of training and operations that Plastic Surgery does. At an absolute minimum, you should be looking for a doctor that is recognised as Specialist > Surgeon > (AMC Recognised Surgical Specialty).
If the registration type is listed as General, that practitioner does not have recognised qualifications in surgery in any field.
By Dr Gavin Sandercoe
AHPRA Registration: MED0001182300. Specialist Plastic Surgeon. FRACS (Plastic & Reconstructive)
Dr Gavin Sandercoe completed a four-year traineeship in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at many of Sydney’s major teaching hospitals, and received a Fellowship in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (FRACS PLAS) from the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons in early 2008. Gavin then completed a Fellowship in Craniofacial and Maxillofacial Surgery at the world renowned Harborview Medical Centre and Seattle Children’s Hospital in 2008. He then returned to Australia, and began to practice as a specialist plastic surgeon in Sydney.
Gavin‘s skills have taken him to Nepal, performing reconstructive surgery at a charity hospital (Kathmandu Model Hospital) for a month in 2008. This allowed him to utilise his skills as a plastic surgeon in Sydney to benefit people in a less advantaged part of the world. In 2014, Gavin was an invited guest speaker at the ReSurge South Asian Conference in Kathmandu and lectured the audience on advances in breast reconstruction surgery and technical details on achieving excellence in treating facial trauma. He arrived in Kathmandu several days early and performed microsurgery with the ReSurge team at Nepal Burn & Cleft Centre, a charity hospital providing free reconstructive surgery to the people of Nepal.
Dr Gavin Sandercoe was a Consultant Plastic Surgeon at Department of Plastic Surgery at Liverpool Hospital from 2008 – 2018, and was the Head of Department at Liverpool Hospital from 2010 – 2014. His work there involved reconstructive surgery for all parts of the body, with special interests in facial trauma and breast cancer reconstruction. By dealing with reconstructive problems on a regular basis, he has the skills to handle complex cosmetic problems.
Since the beginning of 2019, Gavin no longer has a public hospital appointment. All of his operating has been centralised to Norwest Hospital (where he is the current Head of Department of Plastic Surgery) and Bella Vista Day Surgery. The decision was made to allow the best level of care possible from Dr Gavin Sandercoe and his team due to the proximity between the office and the hospital.