As specialists and hospitals juggle with changing rules over what elective surgery can be carried out in WA, it seems an apt time to consider just what is a surgeon?

It may seem straightforward enough, especially for readers of this magazine, but history suggests otherwise.

Confusion over the use of the title ‘surgeon’ can be traced back to 16th century London, when barbers and surgeons were in the same guild, known as the Company of the Barber-Surgeons.

They were effectively GPs of the day, but doing anything from amputations, to bloodletting and syphilis treatment, as well as haircuts and beard-pressing.

No wonder surgeons decided to break away in the mid-1700s so they wouldn’t be asked to do a short-back-and-sides instead of an appendectomy.

Fast-forward 200 years or so, and ‘surgeon’ is still an unprotected title and causing grief, as this month’s cover story explains.

“And if you think medical doctors are the only ones grappling with the term surgeon, spare a thought for the garden business.”


Adding to the confusion for patients is that many doctors currently practising have a MBBS which clearly states a Bachelor of Surgery – so little wonder patients might consider anyone with that degree is a specially trained surgeon.

Only time will tell whether the newish MD (Doctor of Medicine) degree for medical graduates will make it any less confusing to the punters.

And if you think medical doctors are the only ones grappling with the term surgeon, spare a thought for the garden business. 

Apparently, tree surgeons are the ‘paramedics’ and arborists are the ‘doctors’ of the industry. Tree surgeons prune, fell and remove trees, limbs and stumps, while arborists have specific qualifications to look after the entire ‘body’ or garden.

Perhaps an orthopaedic surgeon trimming a tree limb in their backyard would be considered more than qualified?