Having the courage to think big

Two decades of managing healthcare businesses for others made career medical practice leader Heather McLellan-Johnson resolutely determined to set up her own.

In 2018, she set her dream in motion, joining forces with friend and former employer Dr Mark Spanner to develop a sizeable medical centre at Miami on the Gold Coast.

Doors to the purpose-built, two-storey clinic opened in September 2018 and, two years on, Medical on Miami is a busy health and wellness destination for around 40,000 regular patients. It aims to provide collaborative ‘whole person’ care in a warm and welcoming environment that looks and feels more day spa than clinical facility.

“Our goal was to go big and go flagship to show the local community what healthcare can look like and how we can help them be as well – mentally, physically and emotionally – as they can be,” Heather explains.

Medical on Miami employs a team of 51, including 24 GPs and a clutch of allied health professionals. It’s complemented by a satellite practice with six consulting rooms at nearby Burleigh and plans for a third Gold Coast centre are in train.

“Ours is an unusual arrangement but it works. We’ve known each other since 2008 and we both trust that the other is working for the benefit of the whole, not for themselves.”
- Heather McLellen-Johnson, Co-Founder and Managing Director, HMS Medical Group

The power of partnership

A mutually supportive business partnership has enabled Heather and Mark to accomplish more than either would have been willing to attempt solo.

“I’m not a doctor and he doesn’t even know how to log on to the bank,” Heather jokes. “Mark previously owned a medical centre in Burleigh, but he wouldn’t have expanded on this scale and I couldn’t have attempted to set up my own clinic without an excellent lead GP.”

Historically, practices have been overwhelmingly GP owned and practice managers salaried employees, but that arrangement didn’t interest Heather.

“I wanted to be an owner in the business, with all the risks and responsibilities that entails,” she says. 

“Ours is an unusual arrangement but it works. We’ve known each other since 2008 and we both trust that the other is working for the benefit of the whole, not for themselves. HMS Medical Group only has two directors, so if we don’t have one another’s back, we have nothing!”

Backing the dream

 Adding to the business partners’ mutual support is the support they’ve had from NAB, including NAB’s medical equipment finance team, Medfin, opens in new window, who helped Heather and Mark establish and expand their jointly owned medical enterprise, financing the Medical on Miami fit-out and providing equipment finance, chattel mortgages and an overdraft facility. This proved invaluable in the early days, when bills were pressing, and payroll couldn’t wait. The practice also uses HICAPS, opens in new window, the electronic claim and payment solution for the Healthcare sector, also part of NAB Health.

“We had some cash flow challenges, getting established with Medicare and payments not coming in consistently,” Heather recalls. 

“Sometimes we needed a substantial overdraft amount for just 24 hours. There were those deadline rough moments, but NAB was there. They understand the healthcare sector and they were never fazed by the size of our vision.

“Our NAB Health Banking manager, Dirk Chinchen, is a lovely man who’s really easy to work with. His support has helped us progress in leaps and bounds.”

“You have to go really hard, every single day, to make sure the staffing is right, the payroll is done, all the equipment is ticked off and working… there’s so much micro-managing in the beginning, your vision narrows and you don’t have much energy to do anything else.”
- Heather McLellen-Johnson, Co-Founder and Managing Director, HMS Medical Group

Advice from the front line

It’s been a whirlwind business journey and one that’s forced Heather to dig deep. Eighty-hour working weeks were the norm for the first few months and switching off a virtual impossibility. 

“There’s this idea in your head for so long and then suddenly it’s reality and it’s in your face,” she explains. 

“You have to go really hard, every single day, to make sure the staffing is right, the payroll is done, all the equipment is ticked off and working… there’s so much micro-managing in the beginning, your vision narrows and you don’t have much energy to do anything else.”

Taking care of yourself and knowing your own limits is critical, Heather observes. “When you own a business you just think, ‘A few more minutes, a few more minutes’. You need to pace yourself and remember you’re in it for the long haul. And you have to have an excellent team around you when the wheels feel like they’re falling off.” 

A widow since 2013, following the sudden death of her husband, Brent, Heather is no stranger to struggle and says the support of her two teenage sons, mother, close friends and colleagues helps her deal with whatever life throws her way, personally and professionally.

“You take a few breaths, back yourself and keep going,” she explains. “Juggling everything can be pretty overwhelming at times, but I try to rest, then soldier on, appreciate life’s blessings and the things I’ve achieved, and look forward to the future.”

Watch Heather’s story

How a strong business partnership made a dream come true.

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