Dr Nick Palfreyman and Dr Peter Apostolopoulos knew they wanted to open a specialist dental clinic in Ballarat, but they quickly realised the need for their services was much greater than originally planned.
Dr Nick Palfreyman and Dr Peter Apostolopoulos are two friends whose lives have followed parallel paths. Melbourne born and raised, they both studied and trained to become dentists, and then specialists—Dr Palfreyman is a prosthodontist, Dr Apostolopoulos is a periodontist—at the University of Melbourne. They then shifted to northern Australia to complete military service, where they met and got to know each other as general dentists and continued their friendship through specialist training back in Melbourne.
The two dentists have connections to the large Victorian regional city of Ballarat.
Dr Apostolopoulos spent some time working there as a general dentist and found he enjoyed the pace of life. Dr Palfreyman married a Ballarat girl whose father ran a practice in the large regional town. He did some locum work for her father and also fell in love with the town itself.
Drs Palfreyman and Apostolopoulos started to look into the viability of delivering specialist dental services in country Victoria, and discovered that not only was there a huge gap in such services in Ballarat, but that this was true across a huge swathe of the state.
They decided to embark on a bold venture—a multidisciplinary specialist dental practice to extend support over a large part of country Victoria. So began Midwestern Dental Specialists. “We discovered that several services didn’t exist in this region,” says Dr Palfreyman. “Ballarat is a big enough city in its own right to need specialist dental services. But it’s not just Ballarat, it’s wider western Victoria that needs specialist support—from coastal areas to the South Australian border and inland to Horsham and Hamilton.”
The big picture
Drs Apostolopoulos and Palfreyman put their heads together and saw a need to support the region, its communities and general dentists. They also recognised a great business opportunity. “We’ve gone a slightly different way to other dentists, who might group together according to specialty,” says Dr Apostolopoulos. “Our practice is multidisciplinary, because these days that’s the standard of care that the health profession is moving towards. Patients are getting various opinions from different specialists, and there’s no better way to do that than under the same roof.”
The practice has been started to include as many specialties as possible, and currently sports an endodontist, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and an orthodontist, in addition to the specialties brought to the practice by Dr Apostolopoulos and Dr Palfreyman, all supported by a dedicated team of local auxiliary staff. “It’s currently a two−chair dental practice, and we’re looking at expanding to include an additional chair to provide more specialist services and more days for our existing specialists to provide their services at this location. There is a certain amount of scope for expansion at this location.”
Daniel McDonough from BOQ Specialist was able to assist the two specialists in ways other financial institutions would have struggled to: “We had our business model pretty clear,” says Dr Apostolopoulos. “We knew how we wanted to structure the finances and we had some pretty modest expectations of how we’d go in our first year, fortunately we’ve surpassed all of that.
“What was really important was getting our heads around all of the logistics and the timelines and requirements of getting a specialist practice raised from just a shell of a building.”
Midwestern Dental Specialists is set in Ballarat's medical precinct, a convenient and logical location for the practice’s specialists, and, like many other buildings in the old gold rush town, it is covered by a heritage overlay.
“Something we’re constantly complimented on is that we have retained the original heritage and character of the building,” says Dr Palfreyman. “That was important to us, providing something that fits in with the local environment.”
The practice was opened last year by the local mayor and has been going from strength to strength. Both Dr Apostolopoulos and Dr Palfreyman—who has just welcomed his first child with his Ballarat-born wife—are currently commuting from Melbourne so they can juggle other work commitments, but they are both looking forward to transitioning to full-time work at the Ballarat practice and settling in the regional centre soon.
From there, the two specialists hope their business model will continue to service Ballarat and western Victoria.
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