What is a surgeon?
The General Medical Act
In the United Kingdom patients are protected by the General Medical Act. This is civil law and its purpose is to ensure, amongst other things, that persons non-medically qualified do not pass themselves off as medical doctors.
With respect to surgery it prohibits anyone not medically trained from using the title of surgeon (similarly the names physician and psychiatrist are restricted to medically qualified doctors).
The purpose of this law is twofold. Firstly it ensures that you are treated by whom you think you are being treated by (ie a doctor). Secondarily you can be sure that your practitioner will be regulated (and his/her practice open to scrutiny) by the General Medical Council.
So in the UK a person calling themselves a Surgeon (working in a medical context) must be medically qualified?
Legally yes. However this is poorly regulated.
If you wish to be treated by a medically and fully surgically qualified practitioner in foot and ankle surgery there are only 2 variations in title which you should consider. These are :
Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon
Consultant Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Surgeon
If I can't rely on the term Surgeon then the word Consultant must surely mean the same thing?
This term is fairly meaningless. It simply indicates an NHS appointment to a particular grade. It is not a requirement to be medically qualified and certainly not surgically qualified.
So what does training entail for a Foot and Ankle Surgeon?
This varies a bit:
5-6 yrs basic medical training(Medical school)
4-5 yrs general surgical training in allied surgical disciplines
(this is as a practicing doctor, performing under supervision)
6 yrs training in orthopaedic surgery (of which several years will often be spent in foot and ankle surgery)
Only then is one able to work as an independent practitioner.
One continues to be involved in a career long process of self-education, peer-reviewed audit of results and revalidation of fitness to practice.
It is informative to compare the length (and breadth) of training of non-medically qualified practitioners performing surgery and draw your own conclusions from this.
HOW DO I ENSURE THAT I GET OPERATED ON BY A MEDICALLY QUALIFIED SURGEON?
1) Do not be misled by impressive sounding titles or qualifications.
2) If you wish to be treated by a medically qualified and trained surgeon the vital qualifications they must possess are:
I) MB ChB or MB BS
These are the basic medical degrees which prove a practitioner has graduated from medical school
II) FRCS or MRCS
Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons or Membership of the Royal College of Surgeons.
These extra post-graduate surgical qualification entitles the medically qualified doctor to call themselves a surgeon.
3) It is advisable also to look for:
I) Evidence of specialist training in Foot and Ankle Surgery
The usual route is a Fellowship (a period working in a specialist unit).
A specialist qualification in orthopaedics, held in addition to the FRCS.
(This is a recent additional qualification and surgeons over the age of 45 may not possess it).
4) Ask direct questions
I) of your GP before being referred
II) of any practitioner you see.
5) Be aware that legally you are entitled to be treated and operated upon by non-medically qualified persons. It is your right as a patient to choose the level of practitioner you wish to treat your condition.
6) Be aware that any person offering you treatment should identify their profession in advance and in the case of surgery whether they are either medically qualified doctors or legally entitled to call themselves Surgeons.