Do you know the difference between a plastic surgeon, a cosmetic surgeon or an aesthetic surgeon? Who should you choose to perform your facelift or breast augmentation? According to a new report published in this month’s Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery, the journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS), many patients planning a cosmetic surgery procedure aren’t sure who should be wielding the scalpel.
Based on a survey of over 5,100 men and women, the survey worryingly found that 87% of respondents believed that they were ‘protected’ because in order to advertise and perform an aesthetic surgical procedure you were required to have undergone specialist training or have received specific qualifications.
However, in both America and the UK, there has been no limit on surgeons from all specialties from performing cosmetic surgery procedures or on practitioners from any field of medicine from offering treatments that may be described as ‘minimally invasive’ yet which can have significant repercussions for the patient if they go wrong.
The difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon
The Royal College of Surgeons lists ten different surgical specialties, which include cardiothoracic surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, vascular surgery and plastic surgery. Amongst a wide range of clinical problems, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons treat patients who have had their appearance altered by trauma, injury or disease. Plastic surgery is partly functional but also aimed at improving the physical appearance.
After completing medical school, foundation training and general surgical rotation, the prospective Plastic Surgeon has to undergo a minimum of six years’ rigorous and monitored training in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery before being placed on the General Medical Council (GMC) specialist register and only then being eligible for consultant posts in the NHS.
Cosmetic surgery, as an elective procedure to enhance or improve a feature of the face or body, is not one of the surgical specialties defined by the Royal College of Surgeons and there have been no common standards for surgeons to adhere to. In fact, even a medical practitioner who has no surgical training can call him/herself a cosmetic surgeon and perform challenging and complex operations, a most unsatisfactory situation.
The RCS is now looking to address this. Last month it opened its new certification scheme that invites anyone performing cosmetic surgery to apply for. Surgeons have to provide evidence of their training, skills, knowledge and experience in the procedures they perform.
Mr Stephen Cannon, Chair of the Cosmetic Surgery Interspecialty Committee (CSIC) and Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons, stated that “the law currently allows any doctor – surgeon or otherwise – to perform cosmetic surgery in the private sector. The RCS believes this certification system will help patients to find a certified surgeon, who has the appropriate training and experience to carry out a procedure such as a tummy tuck or nose job.”
Medical marketing is another area that has come to the attention of the powers that be and there is a drive towards increasing patient education to improve patient safety. Last October, the Royal College of Surgeons also launched a new online information resource for patients to counter what they described as the ‘aggressive marketing campaigns’ of some cosmetic surgery providers.
The Royal College of Surgeons aims to have its register online by the end of the year, but in the meantime it is possible to check your surgeon’s credentials on the GMC’s List of Registered Medical Practitioners. This will indicate whether they are on the specialist register for plastic surgeons.