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The change, part of the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law Application Act 2024, protects the title ‘surgeon’, something RACS had been calling for for over a decade.

The law means only specialist medical practitioners who have successfully completed surgical training approved by an Australian Medical ҹ (AMC) accredited college - specialist surgeons, obstetricians and gynaecologists and ophthalmologists - can call themselves ‘surgeon’. For the first time, patients will be able to easily assess the level of training a medical practitioner who is about to operate on them has undertaken.

RACS President Kerin Fielding said protecting the title ‘surgeon’ “is a commendable step that will eliminate the confusion faced by patients and add a layer of safety when it comes to choosing a surgeon.”

“Too often patients undergo surgery under the false assumption about the standard of training of the person carrying out the surgery. These changes will help maintain public confidence in the high standards of our health system.”

Dr Ming Yew, chair of the RACS Western Australian State Committee, said the legislation is a win for patient safety in WA.

“Patients will be empowered to make better informed choices about the education, training and competency of the medical practitioner they entrust their care to.” 

By the time they are accredited, registered specialist surgeons have undertaken a minimum of five accredited training years in an independently approved post, endorsed and overseen by Australian Medical ҹ processes, in addition to undergraduate or postgraduate training in medicine and surgery, and prevocational training years.

Associate Professor Fielding added that the changes were more than 10 years in the making and were the result of continued advocacy by the College and the specialty surgical societies.

The Act brings Western Australia into greater alignment with the other states and territories. Queensland became the first state to protect the title ‘surgeon’ in September 2023 following an amendment to the National Law (the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law (ҹ) Amendment Act 2023).