Drs Jeremy and Sophia Richardson are meant to be

If ever there were two people destined to live and work together, they are husband and wife team Jeremy and Sophia Richardson.

  5.5 minutes

Two of the most essential personal qualities for any medical specialist are patience and an eye for detail. Take the case of Drs Jeremy and Sophia Richardson. He’s a specialist plastic surgeon, she’s an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. They recently opened their dream practice in Fitzroy North, Melbourne, in a beautifully restored Edwardian building. But it took each of them nearly two decades of training, three years of waiting for the right property, four serious attempts to buy other properties, a dozen different sets of architect’s plans, and a large renovation before finally opening the doors earlier this year. Patience, in their case, has been a virtue.

“We actually saw this property years ago when we went for lunch nearby,” Jeremy recalls. “Even though it was quite rundown, I could see its potential and had said, ‘This would make a beautiful practice’. Sophia had protested that, ‘It’s way too big! We would never need so much room’.” But she’s happy to admit now that she was wrong.

Still, while the journey to their joint practice was long and somewhat torturous, there was a sense of inevitability to it. You could argue it was set in motion years before they even met. It all kicked off during a one-off screening of a TV documentary on Interplast, an NGO that sends teams of volunteer health professionals to provide life-changing surgery and medical training around South East Asia.

“I was in dental school in Melbourne when it aired on the ABC,” Sophia recalls. “I had been contemplating surgery during my fourth year elective, and decided that I would just go for it after watching the program.”

At the same time Jeremy was in his final year of medical school in Hobart. “I had always been interested in surgery, but that’s when I decided to pursue a career in plastic surgery,” says Jeremy. “The same program, on the same night, because I believe it’s only aired once. We both watched it and independently made choices to go into these specialties that complement each other.”

Perfect match

After finishing her dental degree, Sophia worked at the Alfred Hospital as a dental officer then spent some time in the UK, growing her skills to apply for surgical training. She returned to Melbourne for her medical degree in 2003, and that year she met Jeremy. He’d just finished a year of volunteer work in a hospital in Yemen, and had returned to Australia to commence surgical training.

“We both attended a talk given by a female reconstructive surgeon who specialised in tendon-transfer.” says Sophia. “She was a missionary in India and worked with people with leprosy, and she happened to be teaching in Melbourne. We met, and realised we shared lots of common interests, and it went from there.”

Jeremy and Sophia completed their surgical training over the next ten years, during which time they married, had two children, and completed their fellowship exams. Subsequently, they moved to Oxford and London to sub-specialise in their areas of interest—Sophia in orthognathic ‘corrective jaw’ and head and neck surgery; and Jeremy in aesthetic, cleft lip, head and neck, and breast reconstructive surgery. It was a great chance to broaden their horizons, refine their skills, have a little adventure, and also have some family time after years of training. 

Working as a team

They knew when they returned home that their work would be a combination of public and private practice. Jeremy had a clear vision of how he wanted his own practice to be and Sophia had intended to work as an associate while the children were still young. “But then, when we talked about where things were heading, we decided to set-up together. Mostly because our fields of expertise are so complimentary,” he says.

“We also realised that if we set-up together, it would be quite a unique practice,” Sophia says. “We would be able to provide comprehensive care for our patients—from the skin, to the soft tissue, to the facial skeleton, and even inside the mouth.”

There wasn’t much debate about how they would finance a new practice. They had met Trevor Knowles from BOQ Specialist when they needed a car loan on their return from Oxford, and found him to be personable, consistent, and excellent to deal with. A bit trickier was finding the right property; they wanted an older-style house around Carlton or Fitzroy, with room for car parking and easy transport links. “We loved the idea of having a property with history, and being able to respectfully enhance its form and function to bring it up to modern clinical standards. And I suppose there’s some similarity to our love for surgery—that we can restore balance and enhance natural assets, whilst ensuring that a patient still retains their unique characteristics,” says Jeremy.

After three years of looking, their dream property at Fitzroy North came on the market. “I think it’s true that good things come to those who wait,” says Sophia. “It was a three-year wait, but this property ticks every single box.”

Hope springs …

But that wasn’t the end of the journey. “A good thing about a plastic surgeon is that they’re very detailed,” says Sophia. “And the bad thing about a plastic surgeon is that they’re very detailed. I’m a perfectionist as well, but Jeremy takes things to a whole different level. Every single aspect of the practice was carefully considered, so it took us eighteen months to plan and another six months to get approval, even with supportive neighbours. The fit out took another year, but it’s all been worth it. We have been able to faithfully restore and enhance the property, and we are so proud to be its custodians.”

They opened the doors at the start of this year—but within a few months, the COVID-19 pandemic meant they had to reduce sessions. “At the moment there’s only the two of us, a sessional oral medicine clinician, and a registered nurse who covers dermatherapy. But we’ve got grand plans for other clinicians to join us,” Sophia says. “COVID-19’s put a little plateau in our initial growth, but we’re so encouraged to see how Australians are flattening the curve. And life will eventually get back to normal; even if it will be a different normal. But that’s okay—we are in it for the long run, so this is not going to stop us.” 

 

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. Or ready to take the next step? Contact us to find out how we can tailor a practice finance solution for you, or call us on 1300 160 160.

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