Dr Shagun Aggarwal’s training made him a leading specialist plastic surgeon. Now, with BOQ Specialist's help, he's also a business owner.
Dr Shagun Aggarwal had just arrived back in Australia after one of the best years of his life. He had completed his Advanced Reconstructive Microsurgery Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA—one of only three surgeons internationally per year to be offered the position. It was three years ago, after a decade of training, of topping courses and receiving multiple awards he found himself … here. In Camperdown, in Sydney’s inner west.
He had taken these rooms over from a retiring surgeon. “It was a very basic building. There was no natural lighting anywhere in the space,” he recalls.
“I remember going to a course starting on the first weekend when I got back, because I had no idea what private practice meant. The medical side, that was the easy part. But where do I hire a secretary? Where will I see my patients? What Medicare item number do I use? How do I bill?”
The gap between the highs of the fellowship to the dream of private practice was a big one. Dr Aggarwal recalls it felt like “a train wreck waiting to happen”.
The lure of plastic surgery
Dr Aggarwal’s story looks like a classic first-generation migrant tale. The only child of middle-class parents who migrated to Australia during the Recession of the early 1990s, he worked hard through school, discovering a passion for art and science. It was the latter he pursued at university.
“I actually started off wanting to be a neurosurgeon,” he adds. “I think the surgery and the gravity of what you were doing was really attractive. But, as I went on, I was exposed to some other specialties and plastic surgery was one of them. What I really liked about that was, it was attention to detail. It was creative.
“As plastic surgeons, we do head to toe surgery, we get to work with every single specialty. And it was like you’ve committed to a profession, but you hadn’t, you really could do a whole breadth of surgery. And that’s really what attracted me.”
A tale of two practices
He finished his training at the end of 2014. Then he travelled to the United States and Canada for his fellowships. “It was incredible. That one year of my training in the US was the best year of all by far, mainly because once you’re there, it’s like you’re one of them. The training was so rigorous, high volume, I had really good surgeons to work with. And then when I came back, I knew I always wanted to work in a public hospital, but I always wanted to have a dual practice.
“I wanted the balance of public and private work. That brings a lot of variety to my job. So it really started from very basic beginnings.”
He took over two sets of rooms—one in Camperdown and one in Hornsby, at the top of Sydney’s North Shore. The Hornsby practice grew quickly, so he started looking for a new space that was located in the upper north shore, near the main referrals for his private practice. He wanted to be in a building with other medical businesses and found his ideal site in Gordon.
“We actually have a long-term relationship with one of the big four banks and they’ve always looked after us,” he says. “But what we found was, at the start, it was almost impossible to get a loan because you don’t even have any financial history.
“In fact, given recent overseas fellowships where you take an income hit, the banks would say, ‘Well, what has been your income for the last two years?’
“And to be honest, it was actually a deal breaker for us because, I didn’t want to wait another two years to set up my practice.”
Help at hand
A solution presented itself in the form of Luke Truscott from BOQ Specialist. “We received some references for BOQ Specialist through other friends and colleagues, and we found them to be very receptive. They were interested in the vision for the practice; that you weren’t thinking too small, and you weren’t thinking too big.”
In terms of preparing the space, Dr Aggarwal was after a turnkey solution so he could focus on surgery and patients, not be distracted by decisions about cabinets and carpet. “I’m very wary of really trying to overstretch and being more committed than you really need to be,” he says.
“But we did need a little bit of equipment, and we financed that through BOQ Specialist too. And we’re always in talks with them. This is the nice thing about having a partner like BOQ Specialist ... it feels like our process didn’t just end when we got the loan. We still keep talking to them, and every now and then I still get people checking on me to say, ‘How’s your practice going? Do you need anything else?’
“It was like having a partner with you to make your practice grow and it was great. It was almost like you weren’t dealing with the bank.”
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