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Dr. Carolyn Stulner - Owning your own practice

Making the decision to go into your own private practice is huge.

  9 minutes



More so for oral and maxillofacial surgeon Dr Carolyn Stulner, who was already raising two kids and managing her husband’s specialist gynaecology practice while working as an associate in a private practice. Still, having her own practice was something Carolyn had been looking at for about five years. “And the principal in the private practice where I worked was always talking about an early retirement,” she adds.

She had flirted with getting her own rooms before. But when the bottom fell out of the commercial property market, so she walked away and put her plans on hold. Then, “all of a sudden, my associate announced his retirement and that forced me into doing something quickly.”

The easy solution seemed to be just taking over the rooms. But the property didn’t really fit with Dr Stulner's vision for her own practice. “Nonetheless, initially I was going to take on that lease short-term and then, potentially, look at moving. Unfortunately, negotiations didn't go very well. We discovered that there were a lot of problems with the lease structure and expenses, and we tried to build that into the negotiations for buying the practice. It all turned quite unpleasant, and I was forced to abruptly walk away from it. So, all of a sudden, I found myself in a situation where I could no longer stay where we were, and I suddenly had to find an alternative.”


The barriers

The irony was Dr Stulner had always had a plan to start her own practice from back in her undergraduate days, when she was choosing between dentistry and medicine. “I chose to study dentistry from a lifestyle point of view,” she admits. “I thought it was great; a five-year degree, hang up your shingle, and open a practice. And then I found, as I got towards the latter part of my dental degree, that I really loved the medical and surgical components.”

It was a two-week block of oral surgery as a fourth-year dental student that sealed her fate. “I just said, ‘This is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life’. I loved that buzz and that vibe in theatre. I loved the teamwork. I just loved the hospital environment and actually doing the surgery. I still love it just as much as I did back as a dental student.”

By the time she’d finished training she was ‘chomping at the bit’ to get into private practice, but not necessarily to be a business owner herself. “We’d gone through the process of starting up a practice for my husband after we came to Perth in 2002. I knew how much work it would be.”

Ticking all the boxes

You often don’t know how your practice will evolve when you set it up for the first time. “And your short-term goals are a little bit different to what you decide your long-term goals in practice are going to be,” adds Dr Stulner. “And that all relates to things like where you want to practice. Do you want to be working multiple sites or a single site? Do you want to be a private practice, working in the public system, or a combination?

“Having been in South Perth for a while, it made sense for me to stay in a similar area. I'd built up such a good referral base for people that found it convenient for their patients.”

For the 12 months leading up to this time, she had been working with Ben Dudley at medical consultancy the Zento Group with a view to streamlining her husband’s practice. “And then when my colleague announced his retirement, I said to Ben, ‘I’m going to need your help too’. So he added my own practice needs to his portfolio.”

Zento Group took on the legwork of looking at properties and creating a short list. It became evident to Dr Stulner that a long-term lease would be more cost efficient for her than a purchase.

A short list was created, and one particular property in South Perth stood out. “I loved the location of it and the potential. It had all the space that we needed, and the owner of the property was super keen to get us in because he always envisaged having it as a medical property because doctors make good long-term tenants,” she says.

“Before we signed on it, we got the designer through to have a look and come up with a floor plan, and we realised we can do everything we want to do in this property. It ticked all the boxes.”

Making it easy

Finance for the fit-out and equipment came from BOQ Specialist. Dr Stulner and her husband had formed a relationship with the bank for his practice, and they had always appreciated the ease of dealing with them. “Just for comparison's sake, my husband had some finance for his business with another bank who were making it really difficult,” she recalls. “We had to extend it and I rang up BOQ Specialist and said, ‘These guys are stuffing us around. Can you help us out?’ And they had it sorted by the afternoon. That's how easy it was.

“So, initially, when my colleague announced his retirement, I met with BOQ Specialist and asked, ‘What do I need to do? Is this achievable?’ And they made it really easy.

“And then when that all changed and it was no longer me buying the practice but me having to set up on my own, do a fit-out, and so on, they said, ‘Yes, that’s fine. We can help you there’. So, they’ve made the whole process as stress-free as possible.

"They know we are busy, and we're not necessarily good business managers because we're not trained to be business people—so they were very supportive. They also took the stress out of the fact that this all happened in COVID too. They’ve been great and made the whole process very easy.”


Thinking about starting or growing your practice? Click on the link to find out more about our tailored financial solutions for setting up a practice. Ready to take the next step? Contact us to find out how we can tailor a practice finance solution for you.

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