Israel's Plastic Surgeons Get a Professional Face-lift

Now they can call themselves specialists in 'aesthetic medicine'

Plastic surgeons in Israel will now be allowed to describe themselves as specialists in "plastic and aesthetic medicine," following six months of negotiations with the scientific council of the Israel Medical Association.

But the association stressed that the change does not mean surgeons in other fields will be barred from practicing cosmetic surgery.

The change was preceded by a protracted professional disagreement within the IMA. Documents obtained by Haaretz show that in August 2009, the recently elected head of the Israel Society of Plastic Surgery, Prof. Yehuda Ulman, filed a request with the scientific committee to have the name of his organization changed to "The Israel Society for Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery."

In December, the committee, chaired by Prof. Shay Ashkenazi, rejected the request, citing opposition from other medical groups. "Specialists in other fields, such as optometrists, otorhinolaryngologists and urologists, also deal in reconstructive surgery," Ashkenazi wrote.

Ulman appealed the decision to the committee's presidium, which, after several discussions, agreed that the word "aesthetic" could be added to the society's name, but rejected the word "reconstructive." The committee also stressed that the addition does not mean the practice of cosmetic medicine is now reserved exclusively to plastic surgeons.

"The society's name affects the kind of treatment member physicians can offer, like reconstructive surgery for victims of accidents and aesthetic surgery," Ulman told Haaretz. "We sought to change the society's name to clarify that we have official recognition as practitioners of aesthetic surgery."

In 2006, Health Ministry regulations were amended to oblige physicians to inform patients of their area of expertise before commencing a surgical operation. Until now, however, no branch of medicine had been recognized in Israel as specializing in aesthetic surgery.

The debate over adding the word "aesthetic" to the plastic surgeons' area of expertise took place against the background of the vast market for cosmetic surgery in Israel, estimated at millions of shekels a year. Specializations in plastic surgery - a six-year process - are highly sought-after among medical school graduates because of the high income practitioners often earn.

"As far as we are concerned, the name change is an achievement that highlights the connection between plastic surgeons and aesthetic medicine," said Ulman.

The society now plans to launch a campaign urging the public to verify the surgeon's field of expertise before embarking on plastic surgery. It also plans to launch a new website.

Plastic surgeons are thought to carry out some 80 percent of all cosmetic surgery performed in Israel, with the other 20 percent being performed by other specialists. By contrast, plastic surgeons account for less than 50 percent of nonsurgical cosmetic medical procedures (such as facial injections ). The society hopes to improve that proportion with its new title.

Health Ministry records list 173 plastic surgeons in Israel, of whom 135 are active and belong to the professional society. About five new plastic surgeons register every year.

"Recognition of the new name was approved after a thorough discussion," the IMA's scientific committee said in a statement. "The decision was made due to the centrality of aesthetic work to plastic surgery. However, we made it clear that recognition does not rule out the possibility of other specialists performing aesthetic treatments."