A unique business opportunity for Dr Rohan Crouch has provided rural Victoria with a state-of-the-art day surgery.
Early in 201Dr Rohan Crouch and his partner, Maria Souflas, have just built their dream centre.
“We wanted to build a state-of-the-art facility outside of Melbourne,” Dr Crouch explains. “It shouldn’t be that only people in Melbourne have access to the best treatment and equipment. We wanted people in rural areas to have that access, too.” The result is a painstakingly planned, highly sophisticated day surgery centre in Ballarat.
“Rohan wanted to give back to this community in western Victoria,” Souflas adds. “We wanted to escape the frantic pace of life in Melbourne and we wanted a change,” says Dr Crouch, “and I’d always thought that, at some stage, I’d come back to this part of the country. I just didn’t know when it would be.”
Background—the start of the journey
Dr Crouch grew up on a farm outside Ararat, an hour or so north-west of his new clinic. The farm included, at different times, deer, sheep and cropping, and “all the fun things you can do on a farm, like riding motorbikes”.
His mother was a local nurse and, as a kid, he thought he’d like to be an ambulance officer. Instead, he studied nursing and, as soon as he graduated, reapplied for university, this time to study medicine. He graduated with a Bachelor of Medical Science and a Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, both with first class honours, from the University of Tasmania in 2001.
He went on to further specialist training in dermatology in Melbourne and London and was awarded a Fellowship of the Australasian College of Dermatologists in 2007.
The path to becoming a skin specialist
During his studies, Dr Crouch worked at The Regional Dermatology Training Centre in Moshi, Tanzania and, on graduating, he returned there, with an F.C. Florance Bequest Fellowship from the Australasian College of Dermatologists. His work in Tanzania, and in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia, deepened his interest in the diagnosis and management of skin cancer. This led to further study, both in Melbourne and the United States, and to his fellowship of the American Society for Mohs Surgery.
“I find diagnosis and management of skin cancer interesting and challenging,” he explains. “I’m particularly interested in the Mohs micrographic surgery, which is a fairly specialised technique and, as a result of that, I see some people with recurrent and difficult tumours. So, it’s challenging work. I seem to learn something new every week.”
The first medical practice
Soon after returning from Tanzania, an opportunity came up to open a joint practice in Ashwood in Melbourne.
“I’d just spent eight months volunteering and I wasn’t as financially secure as I could have been but I got an opportunity to buy into a building in Melbourne, and I knew the big banks wouldn’t finance me, so I looked around to see who would. That’s how I met Trevor Knowles. Trevor took the time to meet with me and understand my situation and my needs. The practice did well—it’s still doing well—and we paid the loan back in a year.”
Dr Crouch and Maria Souflas met while they were both at university when Souflas was studying for a Bachelor of Biological Science. They lived and worked happily in Melbourne for five years before their desire for a rural lifestyle set in.
“As I mentioned previously, I like the skin cancer work,” Dr Crouch explains, “and there’s a big problem in rural Australia with people not having access to proper skin cancer management and diagnosis. It’s very difficult for GPs to keep up and too many patients have to travel to Melbourne for treatment.”
Financing and building the day surgery
So gradually, the plan for a country centre grew. When the perfect piece of land came up for sale in Ballarat, the couple jumped at the opportunity and again they contacted Trevor and the team at BOQ Specialist.
“As soon as I decided to open Ballarat Surgicentre, I knew I’d need finance again, and the first thing I did was to go and look for Trevor,” says Dr Crouch. “This centre might not be here without BOQ Specialist, and without Trevor having worked with me in the past and having a good deal of insight into the way businesses like these run. It made me realise how important individual banking is. You really need someone who understands what your dream is and knows whether it’s possible to make that dream work.”
“We’re incredibly happy with the support and service we’ve received from BOQ Specialist,” adds Souflas. “Both Trevor and his associate, Luke [James], have been outstanding—very prompt in responding to our requests and they’ve been there to help us along the way. It’s rare to find that. It’s important to be able to trust the people you deal with and that’s the key component for us—that we feel we can trust the team from BOQ Specialist. They’ve given us support and guidance and the opportunity to create our new adventure.”
Growing the business
There’s little doubt that the people of Ballarat have a lot to thank them for, too. Ballarat Surgicentre is home to a specialist skin cancer centre but it’s a fully accredited day hospital.
“Moving forward,” says Souflas, “we’d like to offer multiple services here, not just skin cancer treatment.” Ultimately, the couple is hoping to host educational events for GPs and nurses as well. Right now, however, they’re busy just opening the centre and settling into the town.
“We’ve only just moved in the last two weeks,” says Dr Crouch. “Ultimately, we’re thinking we might buy a small farm, but we’re living in town at the moment and we’re still getting used to the cold and the environment. It’s a great town. I like the restaurants and cafes and the traffic—instead of 40 minutes, I now travel two minutes to work. And I have a lot of family in Ballarat, so it’s like coming home.
Souflas agrees. “I’m enjoying Ballarat,” she says. “It’s such a contrast to the past five or six years that we’ve spent in Melbourne. I like the way people take the time to stop and say hello. We’ve only been here a short time but we wanted to be part of this community and, so far, everyone has been very supportive.”
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