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Dr Suelyn Lai-Smith on setting and meeting goals

Long before she even had her qualifications, obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Suelyn Lai-Smith didn’t just know she’d have her own practice one day, she knew where it would be.

  3 minutes

 

Having a plan helps a lot when you’re thinking of starting your own private practice, and thankfully for obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Suelyn Lai-Smith, she’s a long-term planner. “I have five-, 10- and 15-year life goals. I set them and I work towards them,” she says.

“When I was a registrar, back in 2016, I saw that the Sydney Adventist Hospital (the SAN) was having a presale and starting construction of rooms over at the Parkway San Clinic across the road from the hospital. I decided back then that is where I wanted to practise full-time obstetrics and gynaecology even before it had been built.”

The problem was, she hadn’t finished her training yet. “I was worried that all of the suites would be sold before I had a chance to finish my training and fellowship and get myself into a financial position that I could purchase one of them,” she says.

Unlike some trainees, Dr Lai-Smith had her eyes set on entering private practice as soon as she could.

“I always knew that I was going to work full-time in a private space because then I could ensure that the care that I provided to the patients was absolutely seamless from beginning to very end,” she says. “I also knew that working at Sydney Adventist Hospital would be a wonderful place to work, as it is such a supportive, collegiate environment.”

True vocation

While obstetrics and gynaecology are her calling, it wasn’t the first career choice for Dr Lai-Smith. She studied psychology at the University of Newcastle, then worked for a few years at an industrial-organisational psychology firm in Sydney. Then she got a job as a research assistant at the Prince of Wales Medical Research Institute (now Neuroscience Research Australia – NeuRA).

“It was there that I decided I wanted to broaden my knowledge and learn more about the physiology of the body and medical management,” she says.

So she went back to the University of Newcastle for a medical degree. As part of her health equity elective in her third year of medical school, she travelled to Western Samoa and discovered the part of medicine she really liked was obstetrics and gynaecology.

“I think that obstetrics and gynaecology blends very well with my previous work as a psychologist because in women’s health there is a lot of anxiety and uncertainty during pregnancy, and lots of gynaecological conditions can also impact the quality of a patient’s life. Having that ability to guide and support patients medically and also psychologically has been so helpful, as I can be holistic in the care that I provide.”

Design magic

One of the drawcards for Dr Lai-Smith purchasing a consulting suite at the Parkway San Clinic, was the ability to create the space from the ground up, the close proximity to the hospital, the easy parking for her patients, and the great on-site facilities such as the cafe, pathology and radiology.

 “It’s really easy for them, patients can park directly under the building and take one lift up to the rooms” says Dr Lai-Smith. “The other great thing about this brand-new space was that I could design it from the ground up. I could create everything with the vision that I had of making it ultra-luxurious, as well as non-clinical and having a really calm focus with all of the decor and design.”

When Dr Lai-Smith completed her fellowship in January 2021, she made an offer on one of the last spaces available—a suite on the top floor.

“I'd started designing things a year before we even started speaking to our building team,” she reveals. “I'd picked out pretty much every single piece of furniture, all of the fittings, the mouldings, the colour scheme, the flooring, the lighting, and the artwork.

“I was really, really hands on and had a strong, clear vision of the actual design aesthetic. And I think it's really paid off because we've received lots of compliments from many patients and other specialists that walk by and see our rooms.”

Team effort

When a new specialist starts a practice, they need to have a huge professional team around them to make their business a reality. “They never teach you that in medical school or during your specialist training,” says Dr Lai-Smith.

“They don't teach you how to set up a business, or about taxation or accounting. They don't teach you about legal documentation, or the IT infrastructure required, the compliance, or the Medicare billing.”

Luckily for Dr Lai-Smith, her husband, Gerard, was across all that. He is a chartered accountant, with a master's degree in applied finance, who had worked in institutional banking for over 20 years.

“I have never done a tax return from the day that I met him” she says. “And his IT infrastructure and knowledge of technology is also phenomenal. I have been so blessed that in starting my journey, I've never had to employ an accountant, IT specialist, or a lawyer. And with his qualifications and background, he has set up our company, practice and managed everything financially.

“I've been very fortunate that our practice has been busy from the moment that we started, and that Gerard has more fun running our business than working in banking.”

They chose BOQ Specialist to help them with finance because the way the bank operated resonated with how she saw her own business work. “They are so boutique and very tailored, and the service that they provide is incredibly personal, prompt, and responsive. Plus they make the journey easy and seamless,” she says.

“It's similar to the way I want to provide service to my patients as well. When we talked to Ben Glasgow for the first time, he was so professional, knowledgeable, and gave us so much great information, that it was an easy decision to make.”

BOQ Specialist's Ben Glasgow clearly remembers the first time he spoke to Dr Lai-Smith as it was a little unconventional. “I had just landed in the Gold Coast and was on my way to a conference up there,” he says. “I did a FaceTime call with Gerard and Suelyn, while I was sitting on the bus on the way to the conference. 

“I explained the process. I asked them to complete a business plan including some cash flow projections. Their plans were so thorough that we were able to get credit approval for 100 per cent of purchase price of the practice premises, plus 100 per cent of their lovely fit-out. In fact, their cash flow projections turned out to be conservative in the end as they're doing far better than that now that they’re up and running.

“I also worked with them to get the best rates possible at the time. They said that the main thing that made the difference for them was that I just made the whole process easy. It’s always really nice hearing you’ve made a difference to your client’s lives in whatever stage of their career journey they are in.” 

Staying put

Dr Lai-Smith acknowledges it’s not routine to finish one’s fellowship and immediately buy consulting rooms, pledging to only work at one hospital. However, Sydney Adventist Hospital always felt like home. “I had both of my children there and understand how well the hospital is run,” she says.

“I know how supportive the incredible colleagues are that I would be working with in the O&G department. And it meant that the level of care that I could provide, also being in the one hospital, would be ideal. I wouldn’t ever find myself stuck in traffic trying to drive between two or three different Sydney hospitals and have that awful situation where you could potentially miss a delivery. I didn't want that for the women I treated. I wanted the absolute best that I could provide, which for me means that I'd have to commit to the one hospital.”

She describes the whole process of finding and getting the space as “a brilliant journey”. 

She adds, “People always joke that we have the penthouse suite because we're on the top floor and it is a very lush fit-out. These jokes make me smile, but we did invest quite a lot of money into the fit-out which I was happy to do, because for me, it goes back to my original principle. I want this to be an incredibly special place for my patients. I do not want it to feel like a medical practice. I want patients to feel like they're going somewhere where they can relax, enjoy, and have a great care experience.” 

 

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