AMA tells hearing to restrict use of the term ‘surgeon’ to protect patients

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The Australian Medical Association has told a parliamentary committee that strict rules on who can be called a ‘surgeon’ are needed.

AMA national vice president Dr Danielle McMullen and AMA (WA) president and plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Mark Duncan-Smith appeared before a hearing of Queensland’s Health and Environment Committee.

The committee is scrutinising the proposed Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (Surgeons) Amendment Bill 2023.

They told the hearing that only medical practitioners who have completed the necessary training in surgery approved by an Australian Medical Council-accredited medical college should be allowed to call themselves surgeons.

Under the current arrangements, any medical practitioner with general registration may use the title ‘surgeon’.

"We’re relieved health ministers have finally acted to close this loophole, even if it has taken some harrowing reports in the media about cosmetic procedures going wrong to bring us to this point,” said Dr McMullen.

“Patients and the community in general have a reasonable expectation that all practitioners currently calling themselves a surgeon have a recognised surgical qualification, having successfully completed a significant program of post-school education, including basic medical training and formal, accredited post-graduate surgical training," said Dr Duncan-Smith. “We support the passage of this Bill because it will help patients understand which health practitioners have undertaken the necessary training to safely perform surgical procedures.”

The AMA said it is broadly supportive of the Bill but noted that limiting the focus to just medical practitioners meant that other health practitioners, such as podiatrists, could continue to use the title ‘surgeon’.

“We do think the Bill could be improved by removing the ability of non-medically trained practitioners, such as podiatrists, from being able to use the title surgeon, which implies a level of training and supervised experience that is substantially beyond the requirements of a podiatric qualification,” added Dr McMullen.