Minerva Minds

Dr Andrea Zalan and her unique practice for children and their families

  7 minutes




When you first walk in to Dr Andrea Zalan’s practice, it doesn’t feel like you’re in a waiting room. It’s more like a combination of playroom and hotel lobby. Sleeklined furniture sits beside a tepee and play equipment. A nook in the wall offers a hidey-hole for shy children. Dr Zalan planned it that way, because she understands kids’ vulnerabilities. She has not only specialised in Developmental and Behavioural Paediatrics but also completed Child, Adolescent and Family Psychiatry training.

“I had special needs for my fit-out,” she explains. “Most of the kids, who are referred to me, have emotional, behavioural or learning difficulties. I wanted to provide a calm and peaceful atmosphere and took careful consideration in designing an environment where children can feel safe and comforted, particularly given they may need to attend several consultations.”

The waiting room is large and child friendly, giving space for the kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder to roam around. Anxious teenagers or children with learning difficulties can also find their comfort zone prior to their appointment while their parents relax. The “nook” has become the most popular place to sit in, providing a haven for kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder.

Her challenge

Dr Zalan’s vision for her practice, “MINERVAMINDS” came out of her experiences at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne and The Sydney Children’s Hospitals Network. After creating a program to train Paediatricians about the psychological aspects of chronic illness, she realised there was still a large, unmet demand for a team approach to helping parents and families. “The importance of collaboration between the different specialists, such as Paediatricians, Psychologists, Child Psychiatrists, and allied health specialists is well recognised. However bridging the gap in everyday practice remains challenging,” she says.

“I always had this dream that one day I will provide a practice for families, where they can have the care for their child, and for the family, and optimise the outcome after a chronic illness diagnosis.” 

A child’s difficulties cannot be neatly grouped into one or two areas of subspecialty disciplines. “This is how my vision of establishing a multidisciplinary practice has evolved, with a goal of providing comprehensive and collaborative care in one location to optimise children’s social, emotional and cognitive development and improve their family’s quality of life.”

“I focus on the wellness model,” she explains. “Instead of just diagnosing a disorder or prescribing some medication, my aim is to develop a treatment plan that would provide the best possible outcome for the child and his or her family as well.

“Behaviour and development is complex as it is influenced by a myriad of environmental factors and constantly evolves as children grow. Good care is built on a comprehensive, high quality assessment, appropriate investigations and accurate diagnostic formulation, a comprehensive management plan and implementation of appropriate strategies with ongoing monitoring as necessary that suits the family’s personal and cultural values.”

This also explains how Dr Zalan came to name her practice “MINERVAMINDS”. She was reminded of mythological stories, gods and goddesses, created by our ancestors in an attempt to understand life, emotions and behaviour. Minerva was highly respected as the goddess of art and medicine, who was famous for developing astute strategies to manage life’s challenges.

Changing the future

A lot of Dr Zalan’s work is built around the increasing understanding of the interconnectedness of body and mind, the roles of genetics and epigenetics and the trans-generational influence of behaviour.

“There is more growing evidence that our emotions, thoughts and behaviours are not only influenced by our genes and brain but equally they also impact on our brain chemistry and our genes. Therefore, through our experiences, we are not only influencing our own lives but also affecting the next generation’s as well on multiple invisible levels.

“When a child is diagnosed with a chronic condition, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Learning Disorder or Developmental Delay, the whole family will be affected. The extra load of caring for a child with special needs creates family stress with increased rates of conflict, separation and divorce. Siblings also display a significantly higher incidence of emotional and behavioural problems. Their emotional needs are frequently neglected and may have long-term implications.”

“Therefore, if we can optimise how the family is dealing with the stresses of managing a chronically ill child, we’re not only changing the life of that child, but the life of their parents and their siblings as well.At our practice we have recently introduced a new program, helping parents to adjust to the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, strengthening their relationship as a couple and learning new parenting strategies. A new program, targeting siblings of children with special needs, to help them adjust to their distinctive challenges will be starting soon.”

Seizing the day

The unique nature of the practice meant it would attract patients from all over Sydney, NSW and even other states. So Dr Zalan set out to find rooms that were central, with good transport links and still provided a sense of tranquility. She found the perfect spot, next to the train and bus station, in Sydney’s Bondi Junction.

She contacted BOQ Specialist’s Luke Truscott, who came highly recommended by other medical specialists. All the paperwork was prepared, the fit-out was designed and cost calculations were completed. However, in the last hour, the lease fell through and all plans had to be put on hold. Fortunately, a week later, a bigger and better space presented itself. Through the personalised care provided by BOQ Specialist and Luke, the financial approval was received within a short time frame. “Setting up a new practice has a lot of different demands,” Dr Zalan says. “Working with people who understood my financial context, the needs of my practice, who are communicative and available is invaluable. Through having that connection and understanding what BOQ Specialist and Luke could provide for me, we could seize the day and change the future.”

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