Dr Hamish Alexander
The pandemic lockdowns and working from home gave Neurosurgeon Dr Hamish Alexander the perfect excuse to renovate his house.Learn More
Going into private practice after you’ve run other people’s businesses for 33 years can be a stressful prospect. Yet after rising through the ranks to chief medical officer at Calvary Hospital in Hobart, followed by 18 years at a local general practice in Salamanca, Dr Scott Macrossan found himself facing just that. “Two years ago, the couple who owned the practice he worked in decided to sell it,” says Jane Macrossan, Scott’s wife and practice manager. “And Scott had to work out whether or not he would stay on or take a leap of faith.”
There are many people who will tell you not to take that leap. Dr Macrossan was warned that it's hard to set up your own practice and much easier to work for somebody else. He looked around and noted that the majority of GPs in Hobart seemed to be owned by large practice groups or corporates. “Over the years, we had discussions like, ‘Wouldn't it be nice if we could control this or that?” says Jane. “But we hadn't really processed the thought that we could actually do it until we got to that point of, ‘Oh, my goodness, we've got a decision to make’.”
Dr Macrossan had been happy enough up to that point. But the opportunity also presented challenges for his wife. Jane would be his practice manager in any new practice—all her training had been as a teacher. And as she points out, “It was a massive learning curve for me, again. So I was really excited but incredibly scared at the same time.
“Thankfully, we have a lovely group of friends and one friend in particular, who had a lot of business knowledge, really believed that we could do it. He was a huge saviour really, at that time. It was lovely to have somebody who had done far more than what we were taking on—this was a tiny little project by comparison. But it really helped to have that person saying, ‘Come on, just do it. You can do it. And you'll be okay’.”
It also helped that their dream property was just up the hill at Battery Point. They had been driving past it for years—an 1880s-era National Trust-listed building called Gattonside, designed by the prominent colonial architect, Henry Hunter. It had been operating as a bed and breakfast for decades when it came on the market. “We fell in love with the building and then tried to work out how it could fit with what we wanted to do,” Jane admits. When they went to inspect it, it was still a bed and breakfast. “The downstairs reception area looked exactly the same as the reception area in the TV series Fawlty Towers, complete with the little drawers with the keys,” Jane says. “And the lovely real estate agents had a code that if the key wasn't in the box, somebody had checked into that room. We actually had to take about a dozen trips to the house in order to see every room.” They initially agreed to rent the property and renovate, with an option to purchase later on, which they did.
There was also a lag in communication between the owners of the property, who were based overseas, and their manager. So the manager wasn’t expecting them when, the day after settlement, they turned up at 6am with a tribe of painters, ready to renovate. “She still had one couple staying in the home when we were due to come in,” Jane says. “So the painters arrived and covered everything in plastic. It looked like a murder scene. We've gone from this beautiful 1880s heritage home to a murder scene and then one of the young painters walked in on the poor couple.
“My husband was busy apologising, trying to explain. But they were so good about it. Here they were, coming down this grand staircase that was now wrapped in plastic and they said, ‘Oh, so I presume breakfast is off then’. And then about a half an hour later, the poor manager came in and I thought she was going to faint. She was horrified because she'd had no idea. She walked into this painting murder scene, wondering where on earth the two poor guests had gone. But it was very funny. That was day one.”
Because it was a heritage building, the Macrossans had to work with Heritage Tasmania and their architect to ensure the renovations were compliant with the rules around renovating heritage buildings. They had to add disabled access and toilets, but other than that, Jane says, it “wasn’t too bad.
“The old reception area is upgraded now and the doctors’ rooms make everybody chuckle because they're massive. Scott came out of a standard doctor's room, which would be three metres by four at the most. And they're now probably five times the size. It's like the oval office with one of them. You have to yell to be heard.
“But we wanted to keep the building looking like a lovely home. We left all the beautiful Cotswold furniture on the veranda and people love sitting out there. We’ve also kept a lot of the antique furniture that was there, and the waiting room furniture was actually from the old breakfast room. People enjoy sitting at the nice old tables and chairs and we’ve got our coffee machine set up, too.”
BOQ Specialist provided their finance for the project. The Macrossans found the bank through a friendship with one of the local school parents who worked there—he put them in touch with Trevor Knowles. “Trevor is incredibly professional, and I felt comfortable all the time that he was across everything,” Jane says. “Initially, we rented the property and then we purchased it through our super fund, which can be complicated too. But again, he made it very straightforward. He dealt directly with our accountant when he needed to, meaning I didn’t have to manage everything. He's genuinely interested in how everything's operating and how you are going, which is really lovely knowing you've got people who take that time to really make sure you are okay.”
The design of the building proved to be a surprising extra benefit during the pandemic. “We really felt that we couldn't just close the door and not have face-to-face consultations with patients,” says Jane. “We didn't feel that we could provide adequate care that way. So we stayed open. The building lent itself to social distancing perfectly—we have our massive veranda, the garden outside and the waiting room with the high ceiling. People were incredibly respectful. We were really lucky. We didn't feel unsafe at all. And things settled quite quickly for Tasmania.”
But an added bonus—if you can have a bonus during a global pandemic—was that it forced them to look at the business again, which had been growing rapidly in its early days. What started out as Dr Macrossan and another GP grew to four doctors, and they were looking at putting on another two. “Suddenly, the practice management became more than I could cope with,” says Jane. “We were looking at needing a bookkeeper as well as having to take on more reception staff and another nurse. We started to feel like we were losing touch with the patients coming in. I wasn't getting an opportunity to talk to people. It just lost the feel of what we wanted. One of the benefits of COVID was micromanaging the business. We had weekly meetings with our accountant. We started to look at the figures and realised that the four-doctor model works really well for us. And that's the path we're on now—maximising the building just by using the lower level of the practice.”
Now they are looking at the possibility of converting the upper level of the building into a separate residence. “We are nervous about that, but we love the building,” says Jane. “We love the practice. We're in here all weekend anyway and the spot is beautiful.”
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