Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
Supporting Specialist Plastic Surgeons
Business View Oceania interviews Dan Kennedy, President of ASPS, for our focus on Health and Hospitals.
Founded in 1970, the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) is Australia’s peak national body for specialist plastic surgeons working in both reconstructive and cosmetic surgery spheres. Established to provide specialist plastic surgeons with an avenue to continue their education following their fellowship with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), ASPS has since evolved to support 93% of specialist surgeons in the industry through advocacy, public education, standards regulation, information and resource distribution, and professional development and networking opportunities.
President Dan Kennedy begins with a note on ASPS members. “We represent about 500 members including specialist surgeons, students, and retirees. In addition to the standard member benefits, we involve our members in the understanding of our ever-changing political landscape, whether it be in response to Medicare, legislative, or government changes, Covid-19 restrictions, etc. And we are very supportive of our student and honorary members; we want our students to take part in the educational opportunities we provide, and we recognise that our honorary members have had long and fruitful careers that put them in a unique position to contribute to the conversation around controversies, industry challenges, and changes.”
ASPS is run by eight paid employees and a plethora of passionate volunteers. The team regularly liaises with other societies and industry bodies throughout the healthcare sector, the most prominent of which being the RACS, Mr. Kennedy says. “Our strongest collaboration is with the RACS. We provide the trainers for their specialty training program, and we attain an incredibly high standard of training for those emerging plastic surgeons across the entire spectrum of plastic surgical practice. That scope includes cosmetic surgery, reconstructive surgery, skin cancer surgery, head and neck Surgery, hand surgery, burn surgery… surgery of the superficial tissues of the body is the typical way to define plastic surgery. We have broad fields of practice, and most practitioners narrow down their practice to a more defined scope as a result. Our members have to meet a set of very stringent criteria to be connected with us, which includes holding a specialist qualification from RACS, and being Fellows of the College. Our members must also have undertaken a minimum of 12 years’ medical and surgical education. Those 12 years include a minimum of five years of postgraduate training. So, our relationship with the RACS is integral to our operations as an organisation.”
Mr. Kennedy shares an outline of ASPS’s core values and philosophies. “One of the things that we always say in medicine in general is ‘First Do No Harm’. And what we would say is the most important thing in the doctor-patient relationship is to provide professional advice and assistance that doesn’t have a commercial edge to it. An appropriate professional approach should think first about what is best for the patient and shouldn’t cloud any decision with commercial factors. That is something that our members are very proud to uphold.” In addition to promoting professionalism, ASPS promotes a high standard of practice for all plastic surgeons. The association provides mentoring and peer review programs that centre around standards of practice, as well as comprehensive professional development programs to further deepen their speciality understanding.
Mr. Kennedy continues, “We also advocate for patients. It’s very important to us that the availability of plastic surgery for reconstruction in public hospitals is protected, and that private hospitals may offer plastic surgery to patients without prejudice. We have advocated very strongly for issues that affect patients Australia-wide. For example, a few years ago the government wanted quite rightly to protect Medicare against cosmetic misuse, but they took a blunt axe to it, so to speak. And they were trying to cut out things that are very functional, like breast reduction. We advocated very strongly and had great success in preserving patients’ ability to have a breast reduction, which is a functional, pain-relieving operation, not a cosmetic one.”
A current advocacy priority for ASPS, Mr. Kennedy says, is the titling of surgeons in Australia. “We believe that the distinction between doctors who are and aren’t specialist surgeons should be transparent and obvious to the public. Patients expect that the word ‘surgeon’, refers to a specialist who has been trained to an advanced level with Australian Medical Council (AMC) approval of their training. Currently, the term ‘surgeon’ is not a specialist reserved title. Therefore, a doctor can legally represent themselves as a specialist surgeon without any specialist training. This lack of transparency adds to prejudice against the plastic surgery industry and contributes to the unfettered practice of ‘cosmetic surgery cowboys’; healthcare providers who represent themselves as cosmetic surgeons without any specialist training.
“The term ‘plastic surgeon’ is reserved, but ‘cosmetic’ is not a recognised specialty title. It has been argued that this is appropriate because there is no specialist training in cosmetic surgery, but that simply is not true. We do train in cosmetic surgery extensively, across the entire scope of cosmetic surgery. We have an extremely detailed and comprehensive training program- it’s just that cosmetic surgery falls inside our specialty, so there hasn’t been a need for the specialty ‘cosmetic surgery’ to be named. This is currently being investigated by the Health Council and will be responded to by the AMC and relevant bodies upon its conclusion. We are not talking here about stopping your specialist general practitioner from operating on you appropriately. We propose that the term ‘surgeon’ be reserved for specialist surgeons who have advanced specialty training recognised by the AMC. We’re saying that somebody without a specialty training in surgery shouldn’t be allowed to use the term ‘surgeon’. We believe this distinction will protect the public and make titling transparent.”
ASPS is keen to see the results of the Health Council’s investigation and predicts a significant tightening of legislation moving forward. Mr. Kennedy concludes, “We don’t know in what form they will be introduced, but I think we will definitely see a serious tightening of medical descriptors and titles as a result of the Health Council’s investigation into this matter. And as such, I think the public will be better protected against practitioners who seek to work outside their scope of practice without sufficient training. I also think that there’ll be a recognition of the serious cosmetic training that is done within the plastic surgical training scheme. This training scheme is a five-year, full-time program. Many of our trainees work more than full time and take on a very extensive study program on top of that, and they come out with comprehensive, hands-on training that has been supervised by expert specialist plastic surgeons. I think it’s important to recognise the work that they put in and the knowledge and experience they bring to the table as a result. We will continue to fight for their recognition, for the protection of our patients, and for the betterment of an industry that improves the lives of so many.”
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AT A GLANCE
Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS)
What: Peak body representing Australian specialist reconstructive and cosmetic plastic surgeons
Where: ASPS is headquartered in Sydney, New South Wales