Who is Performing your Aesthetic Surgery

The spectrum of cosmetic treatments is vast, from injectable treatments like botulinum toxin and fillers all the way through to extensive body contouring surgeries and facelifts. Injectable cosmetic treatments are often safely performed by general practitioners with a special interest in cosmetic treatments, however, going under the knife for cosmetic or aesthetic surgery is another scenario altogether.

The misconception among consumers is that any doctor marketing these surgeries is appropriately qualified to practice and perform plastic surgery. This, however, is not the case and can result in dire consequences.

This problem is not unique to South Africa. Numerous reports from other countries document the confusion created by inappropriate medical marketing, the existence of recognized and unrecognized boards/ associations, and ambiguous terms used to describe varying types of doctors performing plastic surgical procedures.

In 2011 the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) launched the Do Your Homework patient safety public education campaign for these very reasons1.A blog post on the

ASPS website, states “The Do Your Homework message is simple: it’s legal for anyone to wear a white lab coat and call themselves a cosmetic surgeon, but that doesn’t mean they’ve had the proper training to perform plastic surgery. When a practitioner is not qualified, the results can be deadly.”2.

So what is the difference between a ‘plastic surgeon’ vs an ‘aesthetic surgeon’ vs a ‘cosmetic surgeon?

In South Africa a plastic surgeon completes an additional 7-10 years of surgical training after qualifying as a General Practitioner.  4 to 5 years of this, is in a dedicated training program in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery They then pass national examinations run by the Colleges of Medicine of South Africa.

Only plastic surgeons specialised in the principles and techniques of plastic surgery have the ability to manage risks and complications unique to plastic surgery.

A ‘cosmetic surgeon’ is a doctor who performs aesthetic surgeries without necessarily being trained in plastic surgery techniques.

It is important to note that the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) does not recognise any speciality of ‘cosmetic medicine’ or ‘cosmetic surgery’. The only recognised qualification and registration relating to plastic surgery is that of a plastic and reconstructive surgeon.

Lastly, ‘aesthetic surgeon’ is also not a recognised speciality; and is merely a term used to describe a qualified, registered plastic surgeon who chooses to do less reconstructive work and focuses mostly on aesthetic surgeries.

Appropriately qualified

Yet regardless of whether your surgeon markets themselves as a ‘cosmetic’, ‘aesthetic’ or ‘plastic’ surgeon, you must check that they are qualified as a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with the HPCSA – and that they are registered with the Association of Plastic Aesthetic and Reconstructive Surgeons of South Africa (APRASSA), before considering going under the knife for a surgical procedure.

To help you validate your doctor’s qualifications to ensure you have the safest plastic surgery experience possible:

  • Ask if your doctor is a qualified plastic surgeon and registered with APRASSA.
  • If your doctor says “I’m registered with the HPCSA”, ask him or her “in what speciality?” They should be registered in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, not in some other speciality as they may have only taken what amounts to weekend or short-term courses to do plastic surgery procedures.
  • Look for a plaque or certificate in the doctor’s office that indicates that they are an APRASSA member.
  • If you have any doubts about their certification go to, click on “Find a Surgeon” to check if your doctor appears in the results or call +27 11 784 4537.
  • You can also check that your doctor is actively registered with the HPCSA by going to the following link, enter your doctor’s name or select ‘Category’, then Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

This article was written by Dr Isabel Do Vale and edited by the A2 team EXCLUSIVELY for the A2 Aesthetic & Anti-Ageing Magazine March 2019 Edition (Issue 29).


1.) Shah, A. et al. Public perception of cosmetic surgeons versus plastic surgeons: Increasing transparency to educate patients. Plast Reconstr Surg. 2016;139(2):544e-557e
2.)   Wong, W. et al. Investigating Board Certification: Do Our Patients Know How to Do Their Homework? Plast Reconstr Surg.2015; 136(4S)Abstract Supplement:77



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