In Belgium the path to becoming a surgeon involves long and intense study. After high school education it takes twelve years to become a surgeon; seven years at medical school and five years in the elected specialist field, compared to the UK, where surgeons tend to go straight into their specialist field. The seven years at medical school is divided into two parts; the first lasts three years and covers scientific education (biology and physiology classes, as well as organic chemistry and basic physics). The latter lasts four years and incorporates three years of clinical studies and one year of practical training in a hospital. Students keen to go into surgery take electives focusing in depth on anatomy. After these seven years, students receive their doctor’s diploma.
The last two years of medical school are a type of apprenticeship where students work with real patients while being observed by experienced surgeons to gain firsthand experience in the field. In addition to their area of focus, medical students are required to rotate through other fields, such as paediatrics, internal medicine, and obstetrics, to gain a more holistic feel for the medical world they will be working within.
After medical school the doctor enters into a residency which can last between two to six years. During this time the doctor is paid, and works in a hospital operating on patients under close supervision of the professor. Upon completion of the residency the surgeon is ready to either work as an official surgeon at the residency hospital or at another practice.
In Belgium certified surgeons are titled either Doctor or Professor, depending on their status, but mostly just referred to as Doctor. Consultants should be on the official register of Surgical Specialists, Medical Doctors or Dentists and have a valid diploma with official registration. In order to practise in Belgium a doctor needs accreditation granted by the Minister for Public Health and further training is needed to obtain this accreditation. Pharmacists and dentists follow a five-year university course and no accreditation is required as the diploma allows immediate practice.
The Order of Physicians is an organisation influencing the Belgian medical profession and each doctor must be registered with this body in order to practise in Belgium. The Order investigates illegal and unethical practices under its strict Code of Ethics and has the right to impose penalties and strike doctors off the register if necessary.
The National Hospital Council is another body which plays an important role in Belgian health care policies by advising the Minister for Public Health on issues related to hospital planning, accreditation and financing. You can check a surgeon’s accreditation at the Belgian Society for Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery; all doctors listed on their web site are recognised by the Belgian Ministry of Health. Further information can be found at the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons and the Belgian Association for Surgeons.
Other points of reference
Ministry of Health, 33 Boulevard Bschoffshiem, Brussels B-1000 Tel: +32 220 2011 Fax: 2 220 2067
Belgian Medical Association. Association Belge des Syndicats Médicaux, Chaussée de Boondael 6 bte 4, B-1050 Brussels Tel: +32 644 1288 Fax: 02 644 1527
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