By Jung Min-ho
A professional body of plastic surgeons claimed Monday that about nine in 10 doctors working in cosmetic surgery clinics are not specialists and don't get "residency" training in the field.
The claim was made by the Korean Association of Plastic Surgeons (KAPS) after a Chinese woman was declared brain dead after undergoing surgery on Jan. 27. This is one of a series of recent mishaps and tragedies involving plastic surgery.
Under the Medical Law, doctors, who don't receive residency training from plastic surgeons, are not allowed to promote themselves as "plastic surgery specialists" on clinic signboards or websites.
But these non-specialists often tweak this title and get away without punishment by advertising themselves as "International plastic surgery experts" or "cosmetic surgeons."
"It's like someone writes about football for a newspaper with little knowledge about sports," plastic surgeon Park Jun told The Korea Times. "As surgeons deal with life-or-death matters, this problem is much more dangerous."
For those who know little about the Korean medical system, in which doctors should have four years of training to become a specialist in one particular field, "they all look like plastic surgeons," Park said.
"During four years at medical school, all students are required to take a one-semester plastic surgery course. This is basically all they know about it," said another plastic surgeon who refused to be named.
Through its internal investigation last year, KAPS found that some doctors deliberately injected a large amount of anesthetic into patients to secretly allow other doctors to conduct illegal operations.
The association claimed that many plastic surgery "factories" do it to get the maximum promotion effect from star surgeons they have. And most "shadow doctors" are unqualified plastic surgeons, it added.
"Many star surgeons, who appear on television or signs, rarely conduct operations," said another plastic surgeon, who refused to be named.
Meanwhile, clinics have been opposed to introducing stronger regulations for the issue, saying it would infringe on the freedom of doctors.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare said it will soon introduce measures to prevent shadow doctors practicing. Its officials and experts are now discussing the details.
Medical tourists soared to 122,297 in 2011 and 211,218 last year. Revenue jumped to 393.4 billion won ($368 million) in 2013 from 54.7 billion won in 2009.
Among them, cosmetic surgery is the second most popular field, accounting for 8.6 percent or 24,075 out of a total of 211,218 medical tourists.
"Recent plastic surgery incidents have greatly damaged the reputation of Korean plastic surgery specialists. We will soon see a dramatic decrease in numbers, if the government continues to fail to inform people who the real ones are," Park said.