How to Choose a Surgeon?
This is a very personal decision but one most critical to your safety and eventual outcome. I wish every patient could have access to the knowledge of the nurses we work with on the ward and in operating theatres as they have seen it all – the surgeons, their manner and technical ability. They know who they would want as a surgeon. Most people know a surgeon by word of mouth and that isn’t too bad a starting point, but even so, you should check credentials. Unfortunately, in most Australian States including New South Wales, even doctors with the most basic University Medical degree can choose to call themselves a ‘surgeon’. Firstly, check credentials and training thoroughly. Here are THREE basic essentials:
1. AHPRA – Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
It is a legal requirement that if you are a medical practitioner in Australia, that you are registered with AHPRA. On AHPRA’s website, you can check if: a) someone is a medical practitioner and more importantly b) that they have recognised Specialist qualification. Those who have a General registration only, have their medical degree from University but are not recognised specialists by AHPRA or the AMC (Australian Medical Council). Check whether your surgeon is a recognised specialist here.
2. FRACS – Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons
The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons is the Australian Government’s designated body to train Surgeons in Australia. These letters F.R.A.C.S found after a doctor’s name are essential to ensure your Surgeon has passed all the many necessary years and examinations required to hold a Specialist title (be it a Cardiac Surgeon, Neurosurgeon, Plastic Surgeon, etc). It also means that your Surgeon is complying with the Continuing Professional Development program of the College ensuring your Surgeon is up to date with their skills and knowledge. Some doctors who call themselves ‘surgeon’ in their title may use letters very similar to F.R.A.C.S at first glance so check your letters well! It is imperative to check whether your surgeon is a Recognised Specialist Surgeon by the Australian Medical Council (AMC) and a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS). Click here to check your surgeon is accredited. Also – Beware the ideology of the name ‘College’ can be misleading as any group of medical professionals can create its own board and register a business name as a ‘College’. The College for training Specialist Surgeons as recognised by the AMC in Australia is the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.
3. Member of ASPS – The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons
This is the only Society sanctioned by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to train Specialist Plastic Surgeons for the purposes of Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgery. All Members of ASPS are bona fide Plastic Surgeons who are in full-time Plastic Surgery Practice. To reach this level requires a minimum of 12 years education and training plus completing necessary training terms, operation numbers, courses and examinations. In my mind, this difficult pathway to achieve the title Plastic Surgeon is essential (see My Path below). Check here if your Plastic, Reconstructive and Cosmetic Surgeon is a member of ASPS.
My Path (and hence my Philosophy)
As all doctors, I began my training in University Medical School (six years at Sydney University). Then I did years as an Intern and Resident Medical Officer in teaching hospitals (this too is no different to other Doctors).
After my Resident Medical Officership, I pursued Surgical Training. This began with junior Surgical Trainee jobs in General Surgery, Cardiothoracic Surgery, Neurosurgery, and a few other disciplines including Plastic Surgery. During this time I completed many hospital jobs and courses deemed essential requirements for a Surgeon (such as Basic Surgical Skills, Trauma Management, etc).
I also during this time completed my Primary Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Examinations that are deemed essential to even qualify for consideration into Senior Surgical Training. It still astounds me that some doctors who call themselves ‘surgeons’ in the community have not passed this first major hurdle.
Anyway, I was then fortunately ranked high enough to gain a Senior Training Position in General Surgery which I happily did until I felt my skill set was strong enough to apply for Plastic Surgery Training – one of the biggest hurdles in my life and one of the happiest days too when I ranked high enough to be offered a Senior Training Position in Plastic Surgery.
I completed five years training in Plastic Surgery that involved Senior jobs at various New South Wales Hospitals, performing the necessary volume and variety of operations, attending Conferences and Courses, and doing the requisite Research in the field of Plastic Surgery.
I then passed my Final Fellowship Examination in Plastic Surgery by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons to be authorised to call myself a Specialist Plastic Surgeon.
Thereafter I pursued further training overseas in Cosmetic Surgery and Microsurgery to add to all I had learnt in the Australian training program before returning to Sydney to start my own Practice.
I’ve decide to list this long and difficult pathway for three reasons:
– to pay homage to the Surgeons who trained me
– to offer respect to my Plastic Surgery Colleagues who also undertook the same arduous training and made personal sacrifices to ensure their training was complete
– and lastly to my patients, so that they know I’ve taken the road I felt would make me the best I could be in this expert field of Plastic Surgery.
Once you have found a Plastic, Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgeon – whether by referral from a GP or friend, or someone you have heard in the media or through the Internet, or even by chance – make sure you take the necessary steps to ensure your decision is right for you.
Perform the basics of checking their credentials. Speak to people that may have worked with them or been their patient and go for a consultation and second opinions.
You should never feel coerced by a Surgeon and you will quickly get the impression if they really care about you and your outcome. In the end, all things being equal, choose the surgeon you are most comfortable with. Don’t forget it is Your Decision.