Australian’s spend an estimated 1 billion dollars on cosmetic and plastic surgery each year. Many are unaware they are being operated on by non-specialist medical practitioners potentially exposing them to significant risk of harm and infection.

Some patients do not know that in Australia that doctors without specialist plastic surgery training are entitled to refer to themselves as Cosmetic Surgeons.

The issue has long been understood within the medical profession. In December 2015 the President of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, Associate Professor Bartholomeusz, said that:

“We can only reiterate that cosmetic surgery is not trivial surgery. Anaesthesia and surgery carries risks and it is vitally important that all surgeries, including all cosmetic procedures, are carried our, not just by appropriately qualified surgeons, but also in properly accredited facilities with an anaesthetist present”.

Understanding the differences between a cosmetic surgeon and a specialist plastic surgeon will allow you to make an informed decision before you agree to a surgical procedure at the hands of these surgeons.

Plastic Surgeons

Doctors trained in plastic surgery need to complete a recognised medical degree along with approximately 8-10 years postgraduate surgical training. A small part of these years training are spent in surgical training, and the remainder in speciality cosmetic and plastic surgery techniques and procedures.

The training in plastic surgery culminates in a qualification called the Fellowship of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS).

The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons notes that:

Currently in Australia, it is legal for any doctor with a basic medical degree to perform surgery. Specialist Plastic Surgeons on the other hand, have extensive surgical education and training including a minimum of 12 years medical and surgical education, with at least 5 years of specialist postgraduate training”.

Cosmetic Surgeons

 On the other hand, cosmetic surgeons need only a basic medical degree. There are no legal requirements for doctors to train in surgery before they may themselves a ‘surgeon’.

The Medical Board of Australia does not recognise ‘cosmetic surgery’ as a specialist branch of surgery. The title ‘cosmetic surgeon’ therefore, is not indicative of a certain level of qualification, and experience such as applies to a plastic surgeon.

It is important to note that a Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery is simply the general qualification of a General Practitioner, and does not qualify someone to practice in plastic surgery.

Cosmetic clinics are often staffed by nurses who perform such procedures as fillers, botox injections and so on with limited or no medical supervision.


In 2017, Jean Huang went into cardiac arrest while undergoing breast surgery at a cosmetic clinic in Sydney. She was taken by ambulance to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital where she died shortly after.

A Chinese tourist employed by Ms Huang at the clinic administered local anaesthetic and breast filler, despite having no medical qualifications in Australia.

Another Sydney woman has been left permanently blind in one eye after having cosmetic filler injected in her face by a nurse at a clinic where there was no doctor present.

Prince of Wales Hospital ophthalmologist, Dr John Downie, who treated the patient, agreed it was “alarming that a patient could go blind from what is marked as a simple cosmetic procedure”.

These issues were discussed on Four Corners on ABC TV – Beauty’s New Normal.

Seeking Advice

Medical negligence cases are not simple and often require considerable investigation by experienced legal professionals.

If you or someone you know has suffered a medical injury due to the negligence of a plastic or cosmetic surgeon, you may be entitled to compensation.

For more information, please call Stacks Goudkamp on 1800 25 1800 to arrange a free, no-obligation assessment of your claim, or alternatively, make an online enquiry via our website.

Written by Reham Samaan.

Reham Samaan is a solicitor in Julie Mahony’s Practice Group. Reham works on a variety of different compensation matters, with a particular focus on medical negligence claims.