Don’t ban dermatologists from calling themselves ‘surgeon’: ACD

Any clampdown on doctors calling themselves ‘surgeon’ needs to exclude dermatology because fellowship in the specialty involves substantial surgical training, the Australasian College of Dermatologists says.

It comes as health ministers consider legally protecting the term amid concerns about the number of doctors marketing themselves as ‘cosmetic surgeons’ with little or no formal training.

One option on the table is to ban anyone other than a fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons from describing themselves as a ‘surgeon’ in marketing or professional material. The sole exception would be oral and maxillofacial surgeons, who train as dentists and obtain their qualification through a separate college.

This would bring the title in line with others such as anaesthetist, dermatologist or emergency physician – all of which require fellowship of a relevant college in order to be used under the health practitioner national law.

But the ACD has argued the move would a step too far, given dermatologists would also no longer be free to use longstanding titles like ‘Mohs surgeon’ or ‘dermatological surgeon’.

In a submission to the ministerial consultation last month, it stressed there were strong grounds to support a crackdown on cosmetic surgery, saying it was clear current laws were failing to protect the public.

It also called for the creation of an accredited specialist training pathway for cosmetic surgery with input from other specialties including dermatology on its scope of practice.

“This will ensure that patients seeking cosmetic surgery can rely on the same level of regulation and standard of care as those undergoing surgery for medical procedures,” the college said.

Training recognised

Nevertheless, there was still a strong need for specialist doctors like dermatologists who were trained and qualified to perform surgical procedures to able to advertise that fact.

“To be prohibited from doing so would compromise patient understanding and public awareness,” the submission added.

“Like ophthalmology and obstetrics and gynaecology, dermatology is a combined medical and surgical speciality that is recognised by the Medical Board of Australia and accredited by the AMC.”

“Surgical techniques are an essential part of specialist dermatology practice, and the development of skin surgery skills and expertise comprises a significant proportion of ACD’s AMC-accredited dermatology training program, which is logged, assessed and examined.”

A consultation paper released on behalf of the health ministers council acknowledged there were nearly 4,000 specialists in dermatology, O&G and ophthalmology who would likely impacted by the change, while many GPs and other doctors also performed minor surgery.

However, it stressed there would be no restriction on scope of practice to accompany the move.

“That is, any medical practitioner might still perform surgical procedures if they consider it within their scope of competency and training, regardless of whether they are a surgical, or other type of medical specialist,” it said.

“The only difference is that these medical practitioners will not be able call themselves a ‘surgeon’.”

It would also potentially reduce the risk of adverse events and litigation by eliminating misunderstandings over cosmetic doctors’ qualifications, the paper argued.

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, which is conducting the review, says it is currently reviewing submissions and will release a full report within the next 12 months.

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