Holidays are a tricky thing for Dr Brenda Murrison because she spends a fair bit of them thinking about work! In a way, that’s understandable as the past seven years have been driven by developing her blossoming primary care business.
Back in 2008 she was running an evidence-based weight loss clinic when she could no longer ignore the critical shortage of GPs in her hometown of Bunbury.
“There was just a desperate need in this community at the time. People were waiting three to six weeks to see a GP – it was fairly awful,” Brenda said.
So dire was the need for GPs that patients were walking into her weight loss clinic and pleading to see a doctor.
Eventually Brenda decided to take a leap of faith and set up her own practice.
Tackling the red tape
It was, of course, much easier said than done. New premises were needed and, along with a multitude of other tasks, Brenda also had the unenviable task of applying to the Federal and State Governments for the District of Workforce Shortage and Area of Unmet Need classifications that would allow her to recruit international medical graduates.
“I had a business mentor helping me a bit and he asked a prominent retired local surgeon for his advice. He basically advised me to go and work for another local practice. But you just have to keep going and you need to ignore the naysayers.”
The first iteration of Brecken Health Care opened its doors in 2010 in the heart of Bunbury but Brenda’s business model proved so successful that by 2012 she was looking for a bigger home.
After a long and frustrating search she decided to build one.
When asked about her formula for success, Brenda, 43, is quick to say she doesn’t have one, beyond thorough due diligence and just “working extremely hard and never ever giving up”.
However, her past roles and experience have all given her a good grounding.
Understanding of the bush
She arrived in WA from Scotland in 1998 and spent her first two years working at various practices in the Great Southern and the Wheatbelt before moving to Geraldton in 2000. Here, alongside clinical practice, she took on the task of establishing the Geraldton branch of the Rural Clinical School, a joint venture between the University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University.
“I was the first doctor on staff there. It was an amazing opportunity to do something very different,” she said. “It wasn’t just teaching, it was about setting up the school. So it was about employing staff, setting up the office, finding houses to buy for the students.”
She took on a similar role in establishing a second branch of the RCS in Bunbury when she moved there in 2007. However, a few years in and she became “sidetracked” by her own Brecken Health Care project, which is probably more accurately described as a health hub.
On the top floor of the purpose-built premises is the general practice, which currently employs 18 GPs, five physiotherapists plus business and administration staff. Several independent health professionals also lease rooms within the practice, including psychologists, occupational health physicians, cardiologists, speech therapists and dermal therapists. Downstairs other health professionals – such as opticians and dentists – have established themselves.
In a landscape increasingly dominated by corporate providers, Brenda laments the fact that too few GPs are taking the leap into practice ownership.
“I think it is a shame that there are so many corporates – I think they can take the care factor out of general practice. A lot of people absolutely fear ownership because they think they could lose money – and they are right, they absolutely could. That risk for many people is too much for them to get beyond.”
Taking the business leap
After Hours is a case in point. Brenda helped set up the Bunbury After Hours Clinic, which was initially to have had six GP owners, yet by the time it opened there were only two because of the fear it might make a loss. However, the business model was sound and there were steady funding streams via the State Government and then from the Medicare Locals.
But government policy is fickle. Federal funding changes which took place in July have made the clinic unviable and now much of the after-hours work has been taken in-house by the Brecken doctors.
So keen is Brenda to see more GP owners that she is always looking for ways to share her business knowledge and experience with others, by way of joint ventures. At present she and Dr Glenn Fernandes are partners in the St Clare Family & Occupational Practice in Albany.
“He wanted to set up by himself and needed someone with administration and business experience to help him,” she said. “I think doing it jointly with somebody who has the experience in practice management and business development can take away the fear and make you more comfortable making that jump.”
“It’s something that I expect I will be doing more of in the future, and I like that idea.”
With a health hub, an after hours clinic and a joint practice to run, it is easy to wonder just how the rest of Brenda’s life fits in. When asked about her husband and three children, Brenda is very clear that they are her “number one priority”.
So while she does take work home, there is always time for the soccer run, the hockey practice and the piano lessons.
“I think it is about being aware of the role you are playing at the time. So when you’re mum, you’re mum; when you’re a wife, you’re a wife; when you’re a doctor, well sometimes you’re a doctor or a mentor or a friend. If you can manage that you can manage the work-life balance.”