Navigating new cosmetic surgery guidelines

By Dr Amira Sanki, Specialist Plastic Surgeon


The Medical Board of Australia has released new cosmetic surgery guidelines which will come into effect on July 1st. The guidelines introduce some rules regarding how you can make an appointment and how you can book your surgery. Specialist plastic surgeons must comply with these regulations in order to maintain their medical registration. Cosmetic surgery is surgery to revise or change the appearance, colour, texture, structure or position of normal bodily features with the dominant purpose of achieving what the patient perceives to be a more desirable appearance. 

Here is an outline of the steps to expect in your cosmetic surgery journey:

1. Get a referral letter

You will need to ask your regular general practitioner for a referral letter to a specialist plastic surgeon. If you do not have a regular general practitioner, you can ask another general practitioner or specialist practitioner for a referral letter. Your referring doctor is obliged to ask you your motivations for seeking cosmetic surgery, and whether another medical practitioner has denied you having cosmetic surgery. Getting a letter from a referring GP can help determine if your needs will be met by having surgery. It also provides important information to the specialist plastic surgeon about your medical past history. This consultation will be rebatable from Medicare, but your consultation with your surgeon may not necessarily attract a Medicare rebate.

2. Your plastic surgeon will ask you to complete a psychology questionnaire

A specialist surgeon cares for your overall well-being and therefore needs to exclude important but uncommon causes for dissatisfaction with your appearance such as body dysmorphic disorder. This can be done with a simple psychology questionnaire prior to or at the time of your appointment. The questionnaire will be given to you electronically, face to face or as a paper questionnaire. Your surgeon may ask you to see another health practitioner (eg. psychologist) if there are concerns raised in your questionnaire. This is like being referred to a cardiologist if your surgeon identified you had a heart condition or if you were referred to a respiratory physician to optimise your asthma before surgery.

3. Your specialist surgeon will let you know if you are a good candidate for surgery

Surgery is not the right answer for every patient seeking cosmetic surgery. The most common reason for a surgeon to decline to perform surgery is that they believe it is not in your best interest. The reasons for this include that your appearance may not markedly improve as a result of the surgery or that the risks of surgery are high because of other health conditions. Your surgeon will let you know if there is a good non-surgical or surgical alternative that can be offered by another health care provider.

4. You can select a date for surgery once you have had two consultations with your surgical team and you have signed a consent form agreeing to have surgery

To ensure that you properly understand what the surgery involves in addition to its risks and alternatives, your surgical team will need to have two consultations with you. After the second consultation, you will be asked to sign a consent form that is an agreement between you and the doctor to confirm that you are happy to proceed with the surgery. 

After a mandatory cooling-off period of at least seven (7) days you can then book a date and pay a deposit for your surgery. 

5. Special conditions exist for people under the age of 18 seeking cosmetic surgery

To protect young patients who may be more vulnerable to body image issues, the cosmetic surgery guidelines require that they must have a referral from a psychologist, psychiatrist or general practitioner who is independent of the surgeon performing the procedure. In addition, there must be a three (3) month cooling off period between the provision of informed consent (ie. the second consultation) and the procedure.

6. Your surgeon and their team will provide you with an information pack

This pack includes: 

  • Written information about the procedure
  • What the recovery process is like (eg. how long you have to wear a garment, time off work)
  • The possibility and costs of revisional surgery in the short or long term
  • Financial consent (eg. surgeon, anaesthetist, device, garment costs and hospital costs, if known)

While members of ASAPS are obliged to follow the regulations set by AHPRA, they are also advocates for their patients’ best interests and aspire to excellence in cosmetic surgery. We wish you a safe and smooth journey with your surgery.

All invasive surgery carries risk and requires a recovery period and care regime. Be sure you do your research and seek a second opinion from an appropriately qualified Specialist Plastic Surgeon before proceeding. Any details are general in nature and are not intended to be medical advice or constitute a doctor-patient relationship.

Dr Amira Sanki (MED0001186186) BSc(MED) MBBS PhD FRACS (plast) is a Specialist Plastic Surgeon, the Vice President & Chair of Education of ASAPS Board, with extensive training and experience, and can be contacted at


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