Medical Training Review Panel: Seventeenth Report

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons

Page last updated: 09 April 2014

Training Program

The Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (RACS) Surgical Education and Training (SET) program requires five to six years of specialist surgical training in one of nine specialty training areas.

Surgical training is primarily a ‘hands on’ learning experience. The training programs are similar to an apprenticeship system, with a trainee progressing through an incremental learning structure that peaks at the point of the award of fellowship. The trainee’s hospital rotations are closely monitored by supervisors to ensure that sufficient and competent experience is obtained in specified surgical procedures.

The college’s vocational training programs are designed to provide progressive, supervised training and experience in all aspects of clinical assessment, decision making and patient management, including preoperative care, postoperative care, postoperative follow up and operating room responsibility. The trainee is expected to assume increasing responsibilities in each of these areas as he/she progresses through the program.

The training program in each specialty is designed to allow the surgical trainee to achieve competency in the domains of medical and technical expertise, clinical judgement, communication, collaboration, management and leadership, health advocacy, scholar and teacher, and professionalism, leading to competent, independent practice as a specialist surgeon.

Surgical trainees choose from the nine specialty areas described below.

Cardiothoracic Surgery

Cardiothoracic Surgery is the medical specialty devoted to the surgical management of intrathoracic diseases and abnormalities. The Cardiothoracic surgeon may perform surgical procedures that involve the lung, heart, and/or the great vessels.

General Surgery

General surgery is the core specialty within the discipline of surgery and is the broadest. The General Surgeon is a surgical specialist engaged in the comprehensive care of surgical patients and in some situations the General Surgeon may require knowledge of the whole field of surgery. The General Surgeon is frequently the one first confronted with the acutely ill or injured person and is responsible for the early investigation of obscure surgical illness.


Neurosurgery provides for the operative and non-operative management of disorders that affect the central, peripheral and autonomic nervous system, including their supportive structures and vascular supply. This includes prevention, diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, critical care and rehabilitation as well as the operative and non-operative management of pain.

Orthopaedic Surgery

Orthopaedic Surgery is a medical specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, care and treatment of patients with disorders of the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves and skin.

Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery

Otolaryngology Head and Neck surgeons investigate and treat conditions of the ear, nose, throat, and head and neck, such as nasal and sinus conditions, snoring and breathing problems, tonsillitis, cancers of the head and neck including thyroid surgery, voice problems, plastic surgery of the nose and face, hearing difficulties and deafness, and tumours of the head, neck and ears.

Paediatric Surgery

Paediatric Surgery is the specialty that includes surgeons who have specialist training in the management of children (usually up to the age of about 16 years) who have conditions that may require surgery. Specialist paediatric surgeons normally deal with non-cardiac thoracic surgery, general paediatric surgery and paediatric urology. Their responsibilities include involvement in the antenatal management of congenital structural abnormalities, neonatal surgery and oncological surgery for children.

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery is a wide ranging specialty involving manipulation, repair and reconstruction of the skin, soft tissue and bone. Plastic surgery is a specialty not restricted to one organ or tissue type. The main emphasis is on maintaining or restoring form and function, often working in a team approach with other specialties.


Urology is the medical specialty dedicated to the treatment of men, women and children with problems involving the kidney, bladder, prostate and male reproductive organs. These conditions include cancer, stones, infection, incontinence, sexual dysfunction and pelvic floor problems. Urologists prescribe and administer medications and perform surgical procedures in the treatment of disease or injury.

Vascular Surgery

Vascular Surgery is a specialty of surgery in which diseases of the vascular system, or arteries and veins, are managed by medical therapy, minimally-invasive catheter procedures and surgical reconstruction.

Trainee Selection

Trainees are selected directly into one of the nine specialty training programs. The earliest point at which application can be made for the first year of training (SET1) is during PGY2 with entry for successful trainees in PGY3.

Any person wishing to apply for selection into one or more of the surgical specialties must fulfil all of the generic eligibility criteria, plus the eligibility criteria for the specific specialty or specialties.

There are five general eligibility criteria which apply across all nine specialties. The trainee must:

  • have permanent residency or citizenship status of Australia or New Zealand;
  • be a graduate of a medical school recognised by the Australian or New Zealand Medical Councils;
  • have unconditional registration to practise in Australia or general scope registration to practise in New Zealand;
  • have satisfactorily completed PGY1 and be in PGY2 or later; and
  • be willing to consent to a full criminal history check, including submission of relevant documentation on request, to enable this to be undertaken.

All generic eligibility requirements must be completed prior to the closing of registration for selection in the year of application. A detailed list of the specific eligibility criteria for each specialty is provided on the college website.

Trainee Assessment

SET trainees complete rotations in approved surgical training hospitals. In addition, all trainees must complete the Australian and New Zealand Surgical Skills Education and Training (ASSET) course, the Early Management of Severe Trauma (EMST) course, and the Care of the Critically Ill Surgical Patient (CCrISP) course. Early assessment requirements include generic and specialty-specific basic sciences examinations and generic clinical examinations.

Trainees perform clinical rotations in units designated by the specialty in which they are selected as providing career aligned requirements. During training there is an increased focus on workplace competency assessment and in-training assessment. All trainees are required to achieve satisfactory performance in clinical rotation and must successfully complete the fellowship examination before being awarded fellowship of the college.

Overseas Trained Specialists

The processes for assessing the suitability of overseas trained doctors for practice as surgeons in Australia are in accordance with the principles outlined in the:

  • AMC application procedures and requirements for specialist assessment;
  • AMC/Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC)/state and territory medical boards/Australian Government Department of Health/state and territory health departments’ Assessment Process for Area of Need specialists: User’s Guide; and
  • AMC/CPMC Joint Standing Committee on Overseas Trained Specialists Assessment of Overseas Trained Specialists: Template for Colleges.

The college aims to assess an overseas trained specialist (referred to by the College as an International Medical Graduate) within three months of the receipt of a complete application. Interviews are currently undertaken six times per year; in February, April, June, August, October and December.

The specialist assessment of the overseas trained specialist focuses on education, training, quality, quantity and scope of clinical experience, level of formal assessment including specialist qualifications in surgery, recency of relevant practice and relevant professional skills and attributes in order to determine substantial comparability with Australian standards. The elements of such a test of substantial comparability are that the doctor has an acceptable overseas qualification, acceptable competency according to the RACS list of competencies and acceptable recency and currency of surgical practice.

The college assesses each international medical graduate on an individual basis, scrutinising a range of documentation supplied by the doctor that covers their education, training, qualifications and surgical experience. If this assessment determines that the applicant is not comparable to an Australian or New Zealand trained surgeon, a written assessment with recommendations is made. Where the written assessment suggests comparability, an interview is scheduled with the applicant.

As a result of the new policies implemented in 2006, assessment panels may recommend a period of assessment of clinical practice by oversight or supervision and/or a requirement to sit the fellowship examination for applicants to achieve fellowship of the college. Where an applicant is deemed not comparable to an Australian or New Zealand trained surgeon, the applicant is required to complete medical registration requirements, including the AMC examinations before applying for specialist training.


With the accreditation of hospital posts for SET, the specialties each accredit specific hospital positions according to the level of training they are able to offer a trainee.

Specialist surgical training is conducted in surgical training posts in which the trainees are supervised and mentored by appropriately qualified surgeons. Accreditation is based on 43 criteria grouped within seven standards as follows:

  • Standard 1 - education facilities and systems required;
  • Standard 2 - quality of education, training and learning;
  • Standard 3 - surgical supervisors and staff;
  • Standard 4 - support services for trainees;
  • Standard 5 - clinical load and theatre sessions;
  • Standard 6 - equipment and clinical support services; and
  • Standard 7 - clinical governance, quality and safety.

Hospitals that wish to host a new training post or seek reaccreditation of current posts are invited to make a submission to the college documenting how the post satisfies the minimum requirements for accreditation. Submissions are considered by the relevant specialty board for compliance and posts may be accredited on the basis of this assessment. However, the usual practice is the recommendation of an inspection visit.

Inspection teams are nominated by the specialty board and jurisdictions are invited to nominate a representative as a full member of the team. On completion of an inspection visit, the team will prepare a draft report containing the recommendation. This report is sent to the hospital for comment on factual matters. The final draft report is then prepared for review by the specialty board, which makes a recommendation on accreditation to the Board of Specialist Surgical Training.

The recommendation of the Board is incorporated into the final report and the decision communicated to the hospital.

Hospital accreditation is regularly reviewed. It is recognised that facilities at different hospitals positions will vary throughout a training program and the specialties maintain a constant vigil as to the efficacy of each position.

Further Information

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons