Cosmetic Vs Specialist Plastic Surgeon

Cosmetic Vs Specialist Plastic Surgeon

Understand the important distinction between specialist Plastic Surgeons, Cosmetic Surgeons and non-specialist Plastic Surgeons.

Undergoing surgery at any time is a serious thing. 

Often it is necessary surgery. Often it is elective surgery. This means that the medical necessity of the surgery is less urgent and may in fact be completely surgery of choice. Examples of the former might be a knee replacement. Classical examples of the latter include virtually all forms of aesthetic (cosmetic) surgeries. 

Across this whole spectrum of surgeries it is very important to understand the seriousness of undergoing any surgery and therefore to make correct choices regarding not only the surgery that you are having performed but very importantly the person whom you choose to perform your surgery. 

The most straightforward way to both minimise the risk associated with your surgery and to optimise the result associated with surgery, is to select a surgeon who is specialist trained to perform the surgery you are having. It goes without saying that you would not have a urological surgeon perform neurosurgery on you for a brain tumour. It goes without saying that you probably would not have a Face Lift performed by a General Practitioner but would much prefer that surgery be done by a Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeon.

Below, we explain the importance of understanding the difference between a cosmetic vs plastic surgeon – and a specialist trained one at that.

Cosmetic vs Specialist Plastic Surgeons in Australia

Within Australia, there are approximately 350 Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeons in practice. That is all. All of these individuals have undergone specialist training through the Royal Australasia College of Surgeons often followed by further training before commencing practice performing plastic surgery, whether it be aesthetic (cosmetic) or reconstructive. Whilst the numbers are smaller in New Zealand the same concept of specialist trained Plastic Surgeons exists there. 

On the other hand there is a subgroup of medical practitioners who purport to be either Cosmetic Surgeons or Plastic Surgeons without having completed full specialist plastic surgery training. 

It should be clearly noted that the term Cosmetic Surgeon is a title which is a fabricated term to allow practitioners to pretend to be surgeons. Indeed it is not a title recognised by AHPRA. It is not a title recognised in any way by Australian Government medical bodies. 

The Australian College of Cosmetic Surgeons itself has been unable to gain recognition by the Australian Government medical bodies as a formal and appropriate entity. 

So is a Cosmetic Surgeon a Plastic Surgeon?

In short, a cosmetic surgeon is not a specialist plastic surgeon. It comes as a surprise to many that an individual describing themselves as a cosmetic surgeon may well not have any training beyond that of a general practitioner. 

This may mean that in fact they have had very limited surgical exposure. It may well only be the sort of surgical exposure that a very junior medical officer working across a spectrum of surgeries in a public hospital has. They do not have intrinsic anatomy and surgery training. They often are lucky if they have performed a single appendicectomy by the time they have finished their in-hospital two year period of completion of their general medical degree. 

Titles such as Facial Plastic Surgeon and Oculo-plastic Surgeon vs Plastic Surgeon

There are also specialist surgeons who are not Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeons but misuse the term Plastic Surgeon in the description of their qualifications. Oncoplastic Surgeon is a prime example. Facial Plastic Surgeon and Oculo-plastic Surgeon are also prime examples. 

The Australian government, The council of Australian Governments (COAG) and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Authority (AHPRA) are all concerned about the misleading use of artificially constructed titles in regard to surgery. 

All Plastic Surgeons in Australia and New Zealand are members of at least one of (and usually both) the plastic surgery societies in Australia and New Zealand. In Australia the societies are the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) and the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (ASAPS). In New Zealand the groups are ASAPS as previously mentioned and New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons (NZAPS). It is important that you confirm that the person performing your operation is a member of at least one of these three societies. 

Cosmetic vs Plastic Surgeon: Why is it important to know the difference?

Why would you bother to understand the difference between a cosmetic vs plastic surgeon who is specially trained? After all, the websites that you might look at would suggest that all the people performing aesthetic/cosmetic surgery are highly experienced and educated. 


The first area of concern really is safety. You need to know that your surgeon is very risk averse. This does not simply mean that on the day of operation he/she sets out not to get a problem but what it does mean is that he/she has been trained and educated in a process which intrinsically gives them the capacity to minimise risks when performing the surgery. He/she is also highly trained in understanding the anatomy on which they are operating and understanding the nuances and variations of the surgery that can be performed to obtain the optimal outcome. 

Fundamental to this is that he/she will be performing the surgery in a surgically safe space; no risky anaesthetics in under-appointed premises (you may wish to look into the history of the Cosmetic Institute).


Most Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeons have had a number of years doing various components of surgery in their basic surgical training which goes for about three to four years. This gives them a really good baseline and understanding of the multiple complexities involved in surgery and therefore the multiple potentials for a problem and consequently the ability to optimise the resolution of the problems should they occur. 

But perhaps the cost of surgery performed by a specialist trained Plastic Surgeon in a surgically safe environment is more than might be offered in the office of a non-specialist  operator. There is an age-old statement which you have probably heard already; ‘You are not actually paying for the 1 ½ hours of work that was performed but rather you are paying for the 15 years spent learning how to do that work well“. 

Genuine & expert consultation

You may also notice a subtle difference in a consultation as performed by a specialist trained Plastic Surgeon and other operators. Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeons have an ethic wherein they understand that they are primarily doctors. They are not salesmen. They are not just service providers. They understand the social and psychological concerns that their patients’ have. They take a number of things into account including the patients’ general health and their capacity to undergo surgery. They take into account the capacity to achieve the desired expectations which the patient has. They advise the patient appropriately and they do the right thing according to the individual. Bear in mind this may even be declining operation because it is the wiser thing to do.

Commitment to patients

Specialist Plastic Surgeons have a deep commitment to Plastic Surgery. With that they almost have a deep commitment to their patients. This commitment is fulfilled in the work- place but it is also very relevant in the ongoing education and training which Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeons undergo.

Specialist Plastic Surgeons are expected to continue to meet the criteria set by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons regarding ongoing training on a yearly basis. The Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, the New Zealand Association of Plastic Surgeons and the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons have a number of high intensity meetings each year. These are held (although Covid has made it difficult during 2020) as highly sophisticated face-to-face meetings with education by international plastic surgeons and our own plastic surgeons regarding every aspect of plastic surgery. On top of this there are courses and webinars run throughout the year. There is a supportive relationship between plastic surgeons, where patients with difficult problems can be reviewed by fellow Plastic Surgeons. Indeed not infrequently plastic surgeons will combine their efforts to obtain optimal outcomes in the operating theatre. 

Collaboration & Research

The Australian and New Zealand groups of specialist trained plastic surgeons don’t stand alone internationally. We are in associate relationships with the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and the British Association of Plastic Surgeons. There is a close relationship between the Australian and New Zealand groups and these international groups, helping to keep the quality of Plastic Surgery locally and indeed internationally at the highest level. 

At this point it is probably pertinent to point out that Australia and New Zealand have been world leaders in Plastic Surgery through the years. You may well have heard of Gillies in England who was a New Zealander working in England and did remarkable work in relation to the war. You may know of Dr Fiona Wood. She introduced to the world the most amazing new techniques of skin grafting in severe cases. The St Vincent’s Hospital Research Unit in Melbourne basically led the world in the development of microsurgery techniques. More recently its focus has been on fat stem cell work and indeed it is one of the leading research units in that arena internationally. 

The Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons actually is at the forefront of research into Lymphoma associated with textured surface breast implants. The work it produces has been adopted worldwide as the gold standard of research into this problem.

Aesthetically we are leaders and innovators as well. Tom Robbins developed the technique of breast reduction which has been the most commonly performed internationally for many years and Bryan Mendelson is an absolute world leader in developing an understanding of facial anatomy and facelift techniques.

Dr. John Newton, A Specialist Trained Plastic Surgeon

For my part, I am a proud member of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons and the Australasian Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. I have an FRACS. I am also a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and have been a member of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. I am a proud and happy member of these subgroups because I believe they contain a coalition of good people who know the responsibilities they have in providing the best care and the best results for their patients. 

To learn more about procedures with Cosmetic Plastic Surgery, please get in touch with our highly trained team today.