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‘Surgeon’ title review: Who will make the cut?


Anna Samecki


7/04/2022 4:30:19 PM

Any doctor can currently use the title regardless of their training level. The RACGP supports a crackdown but has warned against over-restriction.

Surgery
The RACGP has warned that restricting the title too much could ‘negatively impact’ procedural GPs, including GP-surgeons, GP-obstetricians and GP-anaesthetists.

The RACGP has acknowledged the ‘potential harms’ of medical practitioners inappropriately using the ‘surgeon’ title in a new submission to the Health Minister’s Council, mentioning specifically the need for limitations to be placed on the cosmetics industry.
 
The largely unregulated sector, which has attracted criticism in recent months, is already under independent review by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) and now there is a push to ban cosmetic doctors from using the title ‘surgeon’ altogether.
 
Much like the term ‘medical practitioner’, the title ‘surgeon’ is currently unregulated meaning any doctor can use it regardless of their qualifications or level of training.
 
To help differentiate between practitioners and skill levels, the college recommended the term ‘cosmetician’ be used instead for providers of cosmetic surgical services.
 
Another proposal, put forward by the council, was to limit the use of the ‘surgeon’ to fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and 10 subspecialties.
 
However, the RACGP has warned that restricting the title too much could ‘negatively impact’ procedural GPs, including GP-surgeons, GP-obstetricians and GP-anaesthetists.
 
‘As a principle, the RACGP does not support efforts to diminish the role or skills of GP specialists as a mechanism to regulate unqualified practitioners,’ the college wrote.
 
The submission argues that ‘specialist medical practitioners who have undertaken substantial surgical training, such as dermatologists, specialist GPs, obstetricians and ophthalmologists’ should be allowed to continue using the title and without restrictions being placed on their scope of practice.
 
The college also pointed out that large parts of Australia have ‘very limited access to surgical services’ and in many of these areas, specialist GPs with surgical skills are ‘often vital to providing essential services’.
 
RACGP Rural Chair, Dr Michael Clements, agrees.
 
Speaking with newsGP, he said procedural GPs should be allowed to use the title provided they have adequate skills and training that are recognised and endorsed by the RACGP or the Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine (ACCRM).
 
‘We certainly have GPs who practise with a surgical scope of practice, and that can be anything from hernia repairs and appendicectomies, to open reduction and internal fixation of fractures,’ he said.
 
‘And we know that in our rural and remote areas, we have a large number of qualified GPs who have undertaken additional training and have the credentialing to do these surgical procedures.
 
‘So it makes sense that they should be able to use the term surgeon.’
 
Dr Clements says the real issue at hand is the public’s understanding and expectation of the title, rather than there being an actual problem with training standards.
 
‘I think the reason why the term surgeon has become a hot topic is more to do with community expectations of what it means when somebody uses that title,’ he said.
 
‘We’re not really talking about changing standards. We’re really just talking about how we use language and what service the public expects to have provided to them when this title is used.’
 
Public education was also one of the recommendations made by the college in their submission.
‘We have advocated for increased public education and increased regulation around cosmetic surgery, including seeking clarity in the use of titles,’ the college wrote.

‘The RACGP supports efforts to increase patient safety through public education, which communicates who performs surgery, what the relevant qualifications mean and how to find out the qualifications of the cosmetic service provider.’

A response to the consultation process, which is currently being headed by the state of Victoria, is expected sometime ‘in 2022–23’.
 
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