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New surgical education and training program approved

12 February, 2008

After a comprehensive assessment of the College’s plans, the Australian Medical Council (AMC) has approved the new Surgical Education and Training (SET) program of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS), which is to be phased in from 2008.

The College offers AMC-accredited surgical training programs in the nine recognised surgical specialties:

- cardiothoracic surgery, general surgery, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, otolaryngology – head and neck surgery,
- paediatric surgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, urology and vascular surgery.

The new SET program allows doctors selected into surgical training to begin training directly in their chosen surgical specialty rather than first completing a minimum two years of basic surgical training.

The introduction of the new SET program encompasses other major changes to surgical training which are being introduced over the next four years. These include:

- reducing the total time for a doctor to complete surgical
- training, identifying the competencies that define excellence in surgery and surgical training, enhancing requirements for on-the-job assessment, and moving in time to a competency-based training program which would phase out entirely time-based training.

The AMC report on the new SET program concludes that the College produces high quality surgeons. The changes being introduced build on the College’s successes and are educationally sound. The report indicates that the introduction of the new program will not decrease the output of trained surgeons but may increase output slightly.

To assess the new program, the AMC established an expert team which received comprehensive College documentation, written submissions from key groups affected by the change, and conducted site visits and meetings in Australia and New Zealand.

The Executive Summary of the team’s report (available on the AMC website at identifies and commends the significant strengths of the College’s training. It also makes recommendations to improve the College’s training, monitor the introduction of the new program, and improve the College’s communications about the  complex process of transition from the existing training program to the new program.

The AMC found that the implications of the new program, particularly the effect on workload were not well understood by employing authorities, doctors in training or surgical supervisors, despite the College’s efforts to communicate.
The AMC has asked for detailed annual reports on the implementation of the SET program.

The President of RACS, Dr Andrew Sutherland, said the College was delighted the AMC had approved the new SET program and this has confirmed the College’s role in association with its specialist society and association partners as the premier body for surgical education and standards in Australasia.

Dr Sutherland said: “In the past, training was done in two parts. After completing the basic surgical training program, the trainee might have to wait several years to find a position in one of the advanced programs. Direct selection into a specialty has eliminated this bottleneck.

“By working closely with our specialty groups it has been possible to present an educationally robust program with an effective selection process and a clear pathway for young doctors who aspire to a surgical career.”

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