Concerns expressed about training of cosmetic surgeons

The Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) has raised concerns about the training of some doctors who undertake cosmetic surgery and treatments in South Africa. According to the HPCSA, a doctor can go for two-day weekend courses abroad, return with a certificate and open a plastic surgery practice. In reality, a doctor needs an additional four years of study to become a specialist. The HPCSA does not recognise these weekend qualifications from abroad. The HPCSA was investigating three GPs who have been performing cosmetic surgery. The council has already found two doctors guilty.

Qualified surgeons around the world are also complaining of beauticians and general practitioners that are not trained to perform cosmetic surgeries. At a recent conference, the consensus was that although qualified surgeons are seeing a rise in the number of women seeking aesthetic breast surgery, they are also concerned with the increasing number of corrective surgeries needed after operations by unqualified surgeons go wrong.

Swedish surgeon Dr Charles Randquist raised this concern at the Asian Breast Aesthetic Symposium. He was speaking on behalf of 60 surgeons from Brazil, Singapore, South Korea, China, Japan, the United States, Canada and Malaysia who attended the inaugural symposium, ‘’ Many women think cosmetic surgery, including the double eye-lid operation, can be done by beauticians. But beauticians and general practitioners are not trained to perform such surgeries as liposuction, breast augmentation and other cosmetic or reconstructive surgeries. Surgeons have a responsibility to advise women on whether they need or don’t need it and the risks involved.”

Consultant surgeon Dr Lim Kim Siea from Malaysia added that he had seen a rise in the number of women, especially Chinese women, seeking aesthetic breast surgery, “I also see quite a number of botched surgeries and have to re-do the procedure. Many women are lured by beauticians into having such surgeries by unqualified doctors from China, who fly in and charge low prices. Many women find that these doctors have done a shoddy job and seek repairs which cost them another big sum.”

The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), representing over 1600 of the world’s leading board certified aesthetic plastic surgeons in 84 countries provides comprehensive international guidelines for consumers traveling for cosmetic surgery procedures –

• What is the surgeon’s training?

• A gynaecologist performing a breast augmentation or a dermatologist doing a face-lift is not an appropriate choice.

• Is the plastic surgeon certified?

• Ask for certification information and who the certifying body is. The ISAPS website lists the names and addresses of over 1,600 certified plastic surgeons in 84 countries.

• What about aftercare?

• Patients should stay in the area where the surgery was performed for at least one week, depending on the procedure. Find out in advance where you will stay and if this facility is prepared to care for your post operative needs.

• What about complications?

• What doctor will care for you at home if you have complications and who will pay for secondary or revision procedures?

• Do the key personnel at the surgeon’s office speak your language fluently?

• If you cannot be easily understood, be prepared for complications.

• With whom are you communicating?

• You should be talking directly with the doctor’s staff and the doctor. An agent should only make travel and accommodation arrangements.

• Is the surgeon a member of recognized national and international societies?

• ISAPS membership is by invitation and is granted to applicants only after extensive screening.

• Have you checked for references?

• Ask for names and contact information of patients who have recently had a similar procedure and contact them about their experience with the surgeon, their staff, aftercare facilities and post-operative follow up.

Although aimed at consumers, the logic also applies to all agencies.