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Dr Tom Sunderland and Dr Joseph Gunn: Down to the wire

Dr Tom Sunderland and Dr Joseph Gunn were ready to move their practice, but their bank wasn’t in a hurry to approve their finance. 

  5 minutes



It turned out to be an interesting pandemic for oral and maxillofacial surgeons Dr Tom Sunderland and Dr Joseph Gunn. Rather than enjoying a bit of downtime as the Melbourne CBD emptied of clients, they found themselves negotiating the purchase and fit-out of new rooms in Kew, in the city’s eastern suburbs. But fitting out new rooms is an expensive and complicated undertaking, and the deadline for settlement was approaching. And their bank hadn’t approved their loan yet.

“The main base, the headquarters, I guess, for the rooms has always been in Collins Street,” explains Dr Sunderland. “There were about seven surgeons all working there but under different banners, with essentially two or three separate practices based there. From there we would have peripheral practices—we'd go off and do a day a month or a day a fortnight in the suburbs.

“I've always had a fairly strong presence in the eastern suburbs but had lost the rooms that I used to consult out of. So I was looking for somewhere else to consult in the same area, but not looking terribly actively. Then COVID came along and of course the CBD went deathly quiet, and I had a lot more time on my hands.”

Around that time, a number of practitioners were moving out of the Collins Street rooms. “Then my wife suddenly found this practice up for sale in Kew and we went along to the auction and came away as the proud owners of a new practice,” says Dr Sunderland. “So the decision was made at that point to move the headquarters of the rooms out to Kew and that'd be the base. We would then keep a smaller location in the CBD in Collins Street.”

Sharing the load

Dr Sunderland had worked out of the rooms in Collins Street since 2003. He met Dr Gunn at a conference where they bonded over their mutual love of skiing and Dr Sunderland suggested they could share some of the CBD space. Nothing came of it at first, but 18 months later they were discussing a lecture spot in a conference Dr Sunderland was organising. Almost as an aside, Dr Gunn asked whether there was still the chance of them working together, and he subsequently joined the practice.

“The advantages of working in the same place is we can divvy up part-time staff between two of us,” says Dr Sunderland. “And if I take a holiday, I need somebody to cover my emergencies for me and vice versa. His kids are just at the right stage of life that he's going to be wanting to have school holidays off soon. Mine are at the opposite end of the spectrum and just finishing their school careers.

“We don't tend to call it a partnership. We call it an associateship, but we run along very similar lines in the sense that we've got the same staff, and we've got the same phone numbers.

“So he’s been working alongside me ever since. We don't see an awful lot of each other, as we're both busy running our own practices, but we collide every now and then in the main CBD rooms.”

Other than the city, they were already sharing rooms in Gippsland as well, and they both visit practices elsewhere in the state on a regular basis. However, the move to Kew was a big shift. The building itself was a former residential home that had been running as a paediatric practice for some time, so while it wasn’t fit-for-purpose for oral and maxillofacial surgeons, it had a lot of bases covered.

“It already has a 10-car carpark at the back,” says Dr Sunderland. “It's got disabled access and disabled facilities inside. So it needed a bit of freshening up and a bit of modification for our purposes, but it could essentially be run and become a functioning set of rooms with minimum change. And, significantly of course, there’s already a permit for a medical practice because in that particular suburb, it can be quite a lengthy process to get permits if you change the use of a building.”

The last minute save

The major changes needed involved changing some of the rooms to fit a sterilisation room adjacent to an operating theatre, and re-pinning and lining another room for the inclusion of a CBT scanner. While they had approached another bank for financing the commercial property, they decided to talk to BOQ Specialist about funding the equipment and fit-out.

However, the other bank was dragging its feet when it came to approving their commercial property loan.

“We were finding that it was just running a bit too close to the wire for our liking,” Dr Sunderland says. “People like the conveyancer would say, ‘Oh yeah, the banks are like that, they'll get there, but it'll be at the 11th hour’. We were just a little bit concerned that we didn't want to miss the deadline for settlement.”

So Dr Sunderland decided talk to Luke James at BOQ Specialist about funding everything—the commercial property, the fit-out and equipment.

“Having spoken to Luke about it, things were clearly going to move along in a much more timely manner,” he adds. “So that got us across the line in terms of deciding to go with BOQ Specialist. The efficiency of the service, as well as offering a good rate, really did the trick for us.”

They took possession of the property in the middle of May this year. Construction started after that, and by September they were just about to move in.

But that isn’t the end of the story. The former CBD rooms are too large for Drs Sunderland and Gunn, so once the move to Kew is completed, they’ll also take possession of some new rooms in Collins Street, so they can maintain a CBD presence. “We’re going to downsize and move across the street from where we are, and we should hopefully be up and running by the beginning of next year in those new rooms as well,” says Dr Sunderland.

So rather than enjoying the pandemic-induced slowdown, Dr Sunderland has found himself busier than ever. “Instead of deciding to just take up retirement I seem to have doubled down in a way,” he laughs. 


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