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Qualifications - what they mean

  • Last modified date:
    16 May 2007

Surgeons, doctors, dentists, nurses and beauty therapists

When you discuss cosmetic procedures with surgeons, doctors, dentists, nurses and beauty therapists, make sure that they have the right qualifications and experience. Surgical procedures must be carried out by surgeons who have specialist training and experience in cosmetic surgery procedures. Other treatments, such as microdermabrasion, may be carried out by beauty therapists providing they have the right qualifications .

Checking qualifications

Some practitioners provide details of their qualifications by placing letters after their name, eg Dr Joan Smith MBBS. Some display certificates in their clinics. But it can often be difficult to work out what the letters, certificates and qualifications mean. This section of the website provides a brief overview of the most common medical, surgical, nursing and beauty qualifications, including the training needed to gain these qualifications and the letters that qualification holders may be entitled to use after their name.

You can check whether your doctor or surgeon is registered using the GMC's website. You will need their full name to search on the website. The website will give details of their primary speciality, but will not give details of any other specialist qualifications they may hold.

You can check whether your nurse is registered using the Nursing and Midwifery Council's searchable database, and you can check whether your dentist is registered by searching the General Dental Council's database. You will need their full name to perform these searches.

The General Medical Council produces a guidance document - 'Good Medical Practice' - which sets out the standards which doctors should meet in their clinical practice.

Basic medical qualifications

Qualification as a doctor in the UK currently requires five years of study. People who successfully complete the course receive a degree and can register provisionally with the GMC. Graduates are then required to spend one year as a pre-registration house officer working in a hospital before they can become fully registered with the General Medical Council (GMC) to practise medicine.

Someone who only has a basic medical qualification should not undertake unsupervised surgical procedures.

Basic medical qualifications include:-

  • MBBS - Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery
  • MBChB - Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery

General practitioners

General practitioners are doctors who have undertaken basic medical training and who go on to undertake a further period of vocational training of at least three years.

General practitioners provide a wide range of health services, and often look after patients for a number of years. It's a good idea to ask your general practitioner for advice before you consider any cosmetic procedure. They will be able to give you general advice on surgery, and any particular health issues you need to mention to your surgeon.

Surgical qualifications

Surgeons are doctors who have undertaken basic medical training and who go on to specialise in surgery. They will spend two years' training in basic surgery, and then five or six more years specialising in a particular type of surgery - for example, orthopaedic surgery or plastic surgery. If they successfully complete training and pass their exams they will be allowed to use the abbreviations below after their name, depending on where they qualified.

  • FRCS - Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
  • FRCS(Ed) - Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh
  • FRCS (Glas) - Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Glasgow
  • FRCSI - Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland

Specialist Surgical Qualifications

Surgeons from a number of surgical specialities perform cosmetic operations allied to their main specialty. The qualifications listed below show that a surgeon is highly qualified and experienced in their chosen surgical specialty, but it may not indicate that they have received any special training in cosmetic surgery, or that they have experience in doing cosmetic surgery or the particular procedure you are considering. You will need to make sure that you ask about their experience, and a good indication of their experience, but not necessarily their competence, is the number of times they have undertaken the procedure, both in total and in the last year. Complications and revision rates, as well as the number of complaints about the results from his / her patients are better indications of competency. Your provider should be able to give you this.

Surgeons from the following specialties often undertake cosmetic procedures:-

  • FRCS (GenSurg) - Specialist Fellowship in General Surgery
  • FRCS(OFMS) - Specialist Fellowship in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery
  • FRCS (Otol) - Specialist Fellowship in Otolaryngology( for ear, nose and throat surgery)
  • FRCS(ORL) - Specialist Fellowship in Otorhinolayryngology - Head and Neck / Facial Plastic Surgery
  • FRCSPlast - Specialist Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons in England who has passed specialist examinations in plastic surgery

Other Specialist qualifications

Opthalmologists and dermatologists may also have an input into certain surgical and non-surgical procedures. Qualifications in these specialties are listed below:-

  • FRCOthph - Specialist Fellowship in Ophthalmology (for eye specialists)
  • MRCOthph - Member of the Royal College of Opthalmologists (for eye specialists)
  • FRCP/MRCP - Fellow/member of the Royal College of Physicians (for specialists in dermatology

Anaesthetic qualifications

Anaesthetists are doctors who have undertaken basic medical training and who go on to specialise in anaesthesia. They will spend at least seven years undertaking specialist training. If they complete their training and pass their exams during the course of this training, then they will be able to put the following abbreviation after their name.

  • FRCA - Fellow of the Royal College of Anaesthetists

Doctors from overseas

Some doctors, surgeons and anaesthetists undertake training in their home country and then come to the UK to work. Their qualifications will not be the same as those listed above. However, all doctors from abroad must be registered by the GMC before they can practise in the UK, and surgeons who hold qualifications from recognised training establishments in the European Union will appear on the GMC's specialist register. Surgeons from outside the EU will also appear on the specialist register if their qualifications and training have been assessed as suitable by the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board.

As with doctors who do hold the qualifications mentioned above, it is necessary to make sure you ask doctors from overseas about their skills and experience in cosmetic surgery.

Dental qualifications

Dentists are allowed to prescribe botulinum toxin (for example, Botox ®), Some dentists offer botulinum toxin and dermal filler treatments.

Dentists undertake a five-year course of study leading to a degree. They then spend one year working in a dental practice. After that they must register with the General Dental Council before they are allowed to practice dentistry in the UK. Their conduct is governed by the General Dental Council and is set out in the Council's publication 'Standards for Dental Professionals'.

Dental qualifications include:

  • BDS - Bachelor of Dental Surgery
  • BChD - Bachelor of Dental Surgery
  • MFDSRCS - Member in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons
  • FDSRCS - Fellow in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons

Nursing qualifications

Nurses undertake at least three years of study and practical experience at degree or diploma level before they qualify, specialising in adult, children's, mental health or learning disability nursing. After qualification nurses can go to specialise further in a wide variety of nursing roles in the community, in hospitals and other organisations.Some nurses also choose to specialise in non-surgical cosmetic treatments.

The Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) register only records those qualifications  for which the NMC sets standards, and so it is important to ask for evidence that nurses have the training necessary to carry out treatments such as the injection of botulinum toxin and most dermal fillers and the administration of the stronger chemical peels and microdermabrasion.

Qualified nurses must register with the NMC.  All nurses are accountable for their actions and must only undertake roles for which they are competent acting at all times within their professional Code of Conduct. He or she must respect the patient and always act to identify and minimise the risk to them, as well as obtaining consent for any treatment. The Code of Conduct mat be accessed via the NMC website.

Nursing qualifications include:-

  • RN - Registered Nurse
  • RGN - Registered General Nurse
  • BA (Hons)/BSc/Diploma in Nursing

Beauty qualifications

Beauty therapists train to carry out a variety of treatments, and they also study anatomy and physiology, health and safety in the workplace, first aid and salon management. Typically a therapist will train for between 1-3 years depending on the qualification they hope to gain. They will be assessed on their written and practical work, often by means of exams.

There are a number of qualifications in beauty therapy. The main qualifications are listed below.

  • NVQ / SVQ Levels 1-4
  • BTEC National or Higher National (a BTEC certificate in laser treatment is available)
  • ONC / OND
  • HNC / HND in Beauty Therapy
  • ITEC Diploma or Certificate
  • VTCT Diploma or Certificate
  • CIBTAC Diploma

These qualifications may not include training in all of the treatments covered by these web pages, so you will still need to ask whether the therapist has received training and accreditation in the specific treatment you are considering.

Manufacturers' qualifications

Manufacturers of products (like dermal fillers) and machinery (liker lasers and intense-pulsed light machines) often offer courses to doctors, dentists, nurses and therapists who wish to buy and use their products; some manufacturers give certificates to attendees who complete the course. Typically these courses are short, and may cover subjects like bringing in more clients as well as the safe use of the product or machine. As the training provided by manufacturers is not checked or accredited, it can often be difficult to make a judgement about the value of the course and the certificate. You should make sure that you ask the practitioner what the training covered, and how much experience he or she has had in the use of the product or machine.

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