Meet the Telstra Business Award 2011 winners: Darwin Day Surgery

Opening a private day surgery was the only way Darwin could keep its one resident plastic surgeon. The bold move is bringing other benefits for the community, too.

Business Owner Micro-Business Award

Darwin nurses Joanne Kovac and Maureen Schaffer were working in their own  private community nursing service five years ago, when plastic surgeon Dr Ravi Mahajani approached them with an issue which could have a significant impact on the future of people in Darwin who needed plastic and reconstructive surgery.

“Ravi came to us because his operating time at the private hospital was being reduced. He was faced with the option of either setting up something privately with us, or going back to Adelaide. We couldn’t afford to lose him, because he was our only resident plastic surgeon in Darwin,” Ms Schaffer explains.

So the three joined forces and set up Darwin Day Surgery in 2007. The day surgery specialises in removing lesions such as skin cancers, as well as minor plastic surgery and hand procedures. It’s now doing 500 procedures a year and has helped reduce waiting lists for elective surgery in the Northern Territory. However self-funding such a complex business was daunting, and neither Kovac nor Schaffer drew a wage in the first few months.

Schaffer recalls the early days of the business: “It was very exciting because we were able to provide different choices for people. We’ve never had that before. People can come to our surgery for quite private and discreet procedures. You know what it’s like in Darwin. Everybody knows everybody.”

Schaffer believes the main driver behind the success of Darwin Day Surgery its approach to patients. “We are successful because we offer a personalised service from admission through to discharge with expert staff  who make clients feel safe and special. There is no waiting around for hours for surgery: the time frame from arrival to discharge is usually about two hours, depending on the length of surgery.”

Expansion is the next step. A new facility with two operating theatres will allow the Day Surgery to do a wider range of procedures under general anaesthetic.  According to Schaffer, this will increase the business’s operational capacity by 80 per cent.

The big dream of Darwin Day Surgery’s owners is it will initiate significant changes in the health sector for Territorians. As Schaffer explains, she’d like to see the day when patients don’t have to wait long periods to have their procedures and have more options for where and how they are treated.

The new expanded Day Surgery will act as a complimentary health service to the other already existing services here in Darwin.  The hope is that we will work together to provide optimal services for the people of the Territory.

Lessons from Maureen Schaffer

* Staff – “Staff can make or break your business – ensure they are qualified, friendly and know their stuff. Client satisfaction also needs to be formalised – if you don’t know about their complaints or suggestions for improving things, you can’t act on them.”
* Clients – “Know your target clientele, what they want and be able to provide it. Client satisfaction needs to be formalised – if you don’t know their issues, complaints or suggestions for improvement you can’t act upon them.”
* Be approachable – “If your staff don’t feel comfortable talking to you about issues it creates disharmony and disunity which in turn effects your business and business productivity.”
* Take initiative – “No one is going to do it for you, and there is no such thing as a free ride. If you want to succeed you need to go out there and do it for yourself.”

Sponsors’ comments

“Judges said the owners have a deep knowledge of the health industry in the NT and an understanding of its opportunities. They have very advanced and solid growth plans with an amazing roadmap for the future.”
– Deena Shiff, group managing director of Telstra Applications & Ventures and former Telstra Business Awards ambassador

Read about the other Telstra Business Award winners for 2011: 

Meet the winners: Australia Pressure Testing Services
Meet the winners: Flash Fotos
Meet the winners: Janison
Meet the winners: Colmax
Meet the winners: m.a.d.woman

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