In Australia, the Australian Medical Council (AMC) accredits medical education and training, including for medical specialties that have a significant surgical component. 

Although any surgery carries risk, in Australia use of the term ‘surgeon’ is not restricted to medical specialists who have completed AMC accredited training in surgery.

“Our main concern is patient safety. The term ‘surgeon’ causes confusion among members of the public. We have numerous medical practitioners who have not completed relevant AMC accredited surgical training advertising themselves by using ‘surgeon’ in their title. Restricting who can use ‘surgeon’ would help prevent patients from undergoing surgery under a false assumption about the standard of training of the person carrying out the surgery.  

“We only have to look at the recent stories in the media on cosmetic surgery to see what we mean. These horrific stories highlighted the significant harm caused to patients by doctors who are not accredited by the AMC or even regulated by Ahpra. 

“Restricting who can use ‘surgeon’ would also help maintain public confidence in the high standards of our health system, but it is critical that governments also implement a public education campaign outlining the training and education required to use the term under the new arrangements. This will help patients make more informed choices about their surgery,” says RACS President Dr Sally Langley.  

RACS believes that only those registered in specialties for which the relevant AMC accredited training program includes a significant surgical component should be able to use ‘surgeon’ in their titles. 

“RACS’ position is not about ‘protecting the turf’ of RACS’ Fellows. Implementing RACS’ position would mean all registered specialist surgeons - whether or not they are RACS Fellows are able to use the term. For example, a registered ‘Specialist Ophthalmologist’ would be able to advertise themselves as an ‘Ophthalmic Surgeon’,” said RACS Councillor and specialist plastic surgeon, Professor Mark Ashton.  

“We also believe that other practitioners such as certain rural GPs who have obtained their qualifications through AMC accredited courses, which include a surgical component, would be able to use the term, but only in combination with the words ‘GP’ or ‘General Practitioner’ – i.e. ‘GP Surgeon’. 

“This also means that medical practitioners who have not demonstrated their surgical expertise by completing an AMC accredited training program in surgery, ophthalmology or obstetrics and gynaecology, would be prevented from advertising themselves to the public using the term ‘surgeon’,” added Professor Ashton. 

In Australia, the common theme linking the above practitioners is that they have all completed an AMC accredited fellowship and comply with ongoing CPD requirements. Compliance allows them to attain and then maintain specialist registration. The AMC accredited training programs for the various surgery subspecialty fields, as well as ophthalmology and obstetrics and gynaecology are five or six years at a minimum, on top of a primary medical degree and pre-vocational training.