Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

As doctors what we call ourselves is very important. AHPRA rules are very clear that we cannot misrepresent ourselves to our patients. Why is this so important? And what does this mean in practice?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet?”

So most, if not all of us, will know this quote. It’s possibly one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes. If you’ve never heard it (have you been living under a rock your whole life?) it basically means it doesn’t matter what we call things, it’s the substance that counts. Well the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) takes a slightly different perspective.

AHPRA’s view is that health practitioners – mainly doctors, but also all the others regulated by them, for example nurses, chiropractors, dentists and paramedics – well we need to not misrepresent ourselves to our patients and the general public. We need to be very specific in what we call ourselves. The words matter.

So why am I talking about this today? Well it’s a question I get asked a LOT. As a skin cancer doctor (I’m allowed to use that term), I see lots of patients for skin checks, and skin cancer related problems. They often think I’m a specialist. I am a specialist, but not the specialist they think I am.

I’m a General Practitioner – GP. I am actually registered as a Specialist under AHPRA (feel free to check), but I’m a Specialist GP. Now most GPs are specialists, but not all, but we are specialists in General Practice. What I’m not is a skin specialist. I’m also not a specialist in skin cancer. These are important distinctions to be made.

A skin specialist is a Dermatologist, and nobody can call themselves a specialist in skin cancer as no such specialty exists. AHPRA is very clear in that we can only call ourselves a specialist in something that actually exists.

The whole point of this is so that doctors (and other regulated health practitioners) do not mislead patients and the public. We need to be open and honest with our qualifications and not say we are something we are not as this could be misleading and potentially harmful to our patients. This applies to words we use everywhere. Online, on our websites, our advertising, and also in our written and verbal communication to patients.

So when a patient asks me ‘are you a specialist?’ or ‘I thought I’d come see a skin cancer specialist’ I tell them the truth.

I ‘m a specialist. I’m a specialist GP. I’m a skin cancer doctor. However I’m not a skin specialist, or a skin cancer specialist, but I do have a special interest and training in skin cancer medicine.

So don’t be dismayed if your GP or skin cancer doctor says they aren’t a specialist in skin cancer, it just means they are being honest with you and following the rules.

Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

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