Cosmetic surgery not all prettty

CHOICE investigates the cosmetic surgery industry and uncovers some disturbingly unprofessional practices.
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01.Cosmetic surgery investigation

Surgery marking illustration

In brief

  • The difference between a plastic surgeon and a cosmetic surgeon can be up to eight years of specialist training.
  • The cosmetic surgery industry is largely unregulated, so how do you work out who is most suitable for your needs?
  • There were some important questions that some cosmetic surgeons did not ask our shadow shoppers, which are critical to ensure the patient’s safety.

Among the latest promotions for cosmetic surgery procedures are “Need a lift?” and “Beautiful breasts always get noticed!”. From print ads and radio spots to glossy magazines dedicated to promoting the latest surgical techniques, cosmetic surgery has never been more in our faces – and the industry is growing at a rapid rate.

Although no formal statistics have been collected on the number of procedures taking place in Australia, experts estimate more than 1000 practitioners perform cosmetic procedures regularly. Popular as it is, however, cosmetic surgery is far less regulated than other areas of medicine – and as CHOICE discovered, some surgeons seem to be getting away all too easily with some alarmingly unprofessional conduct.

Please note: this information was current as of February 2009 but is still a useful guide today.

CHOICE's investigation

To find out how some cosmetic surgery clinics operate, CHOICE recruited three women as shadow shoppers. They visited cosmetic surgery clinics in Sydney and Brisbane, requesting consultations for breast augmentation, liposuction and Botox, and reported back on their experiences. We then formally invited members of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) to give expert opinions on how these consultations were conducted.

Who's who of the cosmetic surgery industry

  • Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) This is a not-for-profit membership organisation representing plastic surgeons in Australia. Plastic surgery incorporates both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery. Members must be Fellows of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS), have completed specialist surgeon training in plastic surgery and must adhere to a strict code of ethics.
  • Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery (ACCS) Previously, to enter the field of cosmetic surgery a medical practitioner would have to do so on an apprenticeship basis (not subject to any quality controls), resulting in varying quality of results. The ACCS was set up in 1999 to fill the gap in differences in quality of cosmetic surgeons, and has an accrediting medical faculty although it is not recognised specialist training.
  • Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS) This training is recognised by the Australian Medical Council, which is authorised by the federal government to certify medical training.

CHOICE verdict

Considering how easily a doctor can open and operate a cosmetic surgery without specialist training, if you choose to go to a cosmetic surgeon, you need to be clear that you may not be seeing a specialist in the field. At the very least, make sure he or she is a member of the Australasian College of Cosmetic Surgery.

As there is no industry regulation, unfortunately it is still up to consumers to assess the cosmetic surgeon and clinic after asking questions and doing their own research. A potential patient should always check the qualifications and experience of the cosmetic surgeon, as well as the number of surgical procedures he or she has performed, before deciding to go under the knife.

Given the risks if a cosmetic procedure goes wrong, CHOICE would like to see more regulation of this industry to protect consumers.



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