Like most of us, so many of the surgeons we know and their teams are in isolation.
It made me wonder what they are doing to occupy themselves? And how they are still supporting patients to do their research in anticipation for the end of the shutdowns? Basically, how plastic surgeons get through ISO and what they’re doing?
I reached out to Amber Moncrieff, who runs Hunter Plastic Surgery, a large and highly respected plastic surgery practice and medispa in Newcastle with her husband Dr Nick Moncrieff, to get her insights.
How are you and Dr Moncrieff coping?
I’ll be honest.. there have been days since our practice largely closed that I’ve been pretty down and considered it an achievement when I’ve changed from one set of activewear (to accommodate comfort eating more than activity) to another.
Nick has found not operating hard as he truly loves it.. and being at home doesn’t quite offer the same buzz!
But there are upsides too… it is a pretty unique experience to share as a family and spend so much time together. We have had some fun times doing things we wouldn’t normally do – like husband and son doing a corona rap to send to a retirement home! The boys do love having their dad home so much.
And it’s been good for us all to revisit the basics and learn some new skills… like Nick doing vacuuming (which he doesn’t mind as he thinks it is a bit like liposuction!) and us getting the boys more involved in chores.
Plus we are still doing a fair amount to keep the business ticking, take care of previous patients, help potential patients and still try to stay sane while we home school our 3 boys!
Largely yes. We made the decision that we would effectively close the practice last month because we were concerned about patient safety as corona numbers were escalating. And then the government made it official for almost everyone in this industry a few days later!
In terms of the legal framework, our non-surgical side has to be fully shut and as the vast majority of the breast and body surgery we offer does not fall into the government’s classification of Category 1 (urgent within 30 days) or urgent Category 2 (within 90 days but of a more urgent nature), so we haven’t been able to operate since the end of March.
Are you still seeing patients?
Absolutely! For women who had surgery in the lead-up to the shut-down, our Nurse meets those patients in the rooms for things like dressing changes and she checks in over the phone and email for those who don’t need to come in.
For women who want consultations, we have set up a video consultation process. We have been surprised how strong demand has been for video consultations, but it has been great to still have that connection. It is just a little frustrating when the patients are so excited after meeting Nick and the team online but we can’t book their surgery yet!
We also have our reception team working from home and still available every morning from 9am-12pm for previous or prospective patients. We are definitely glad we moved to a cloud basis for our software a few years ago to make it possible.
Have you been doing more training to fill the days?
Yes, all of the team have!
I was really happy to see TAFE offering fee-free online courses and two of our team have commenced a qualification in medical administration which will be great for them, and also for our practice in the longer term.
And our nurses have been doing more online training too – a great way to tick off some of their CPD requirements.
We have also been using the time to learn and grow. Our industry associations have offered webinars that we have been attending and Nick has also been participating in online ‘conferences’. A safe way to continue to think and grow!
Will you be applying for the Government’s JobKeeper for your team?
This is a bit of a hot topic right now as the final dates to apply for the first payments are looming.
So it is worth sharing a fun fact – I actually started my career after law school at the ATO, so I’ve really looked at the program closely.
We are definitely applying, but I understand that for some business owners, it is challenging as they have to pay their staff $1500 a fortnight in advance and then hope they read all the rules right and the ATO reimburses them from 14 May for the first time and monthly after that. That is a big risk to a lot of businesses that don’t have any money coming in.
We chose to register because we are still paying the majority of our team to do reduced hours, so it makes sense to have that subsidised and for them to be topped up via JobKeeper.
An important point is that many sole traders and company directors can also claim via the ATO if they are eligible, so it is worth checking out the website for details. This applies for many clinic owners who often don’t think there is anything to help them.
The number one place to go to right now is the ATO website for information for employers and employees: https://www.ato.gov.au/General/JobKeeper-Payment/
Preparing our clinic for the future
This is not the time to down tools!
Especially if you have the time, or your team is being paid via JobKeeper, it is a great time to get onto jobs you keep putting off!
– Updating Standard Operating Procedures (SOPS). We actually went through this process late last year as one of our quarterly goals, but part of me wishes I waited until now when we have quiet time! We looked closely at our administration and medical policies and procedures manual and updated them. Now there isn’t much that a new team member shouldn’t be able to do by looking through them or even to allow someone like me to jump in to help do if another team member isn’t there. These are gold!
– Website review or refresh. Again, a job we completed last year, but now would have been ideal. The only benefit to doing it last year is that we have been able to continue to help our skin care clients easily as we have an online store. Having online capability is so important, so worth looking at things like online bookings and sales upgrades to your site.
– Mailing list clean up. This is a great job if you have admin team members who get JobKeeper and you want to get them responsibilities to help you when you get back. I find a lot of plastic surgery clinics in particular have poor mailing list management so this is a good time to get rid of duplicates,
– Blog writing. We are definitely doing a lot of this to roll out in the months ahead. I ask the team to tell me whenever they have answered the same question 3 times to let me know so we can write a blog on it!
– Videos or photos. Again, one of those things we all say we will do when we have time, but now we have the time. We have photography booked in the weeks ahead.
How do you still manage the clinic and stay sane with kids at home?
Ummm… I’m not sure I do stay entirely sane! It has definitely been a challenge. Especially some of the Easter craft!
One hack I introduced once school holidays started and we didn’t even have the structure of the online classes our boys were doing was to put together a daily checklist.
It might sound a bit military, but I really think we all need a bit of structure, and they don’t have to do everything every day.
So we have things on the list like:
– 30 mins exercise (which we generally do together and easily go over with just a trip on their bikes and a kick around of a soccer ball)
– 1 push up for every day in iso (so today we did 21… please don’t let it get to over 50!)
– Morning stretches (just 5-10 mins given we spend a lot of time at devices not always in the best seating position
– Tidy room, make bed and put dirty washing in laundry
– Read for at least 20 mins
– Do online educational apps – we have about 6 main ones the boys rotate through
– Play a game or build something TOGETHER (this last bit is the challenge)
There are 13 possible goals and they check them off as they go. And at the end of the week if they get over 75 ticks, there is a small gift for each of them.
Our boys are 9 and 7 (the twins) but friends of mine with teenagers asked for my template to get through the last week!
When will you be back?
Gosh – if only we knew. We just want to see that curve continue to flatten and make sure it is as safe as possible before we would be able to fully reopen.
But Prime Minister Morrison said in a briefing this week that Cabinet will consider elective surgery on Tuesday 21 April so we are keeping our fingers crossed. We would love to a least see some functional plastic surgery procedures allowed to proceed in private hospitals again. These would include procedures such as breast reductions and medical tummy tucks that meet the criteria for a Medicare item number.
Until then, our focus remains on caring for our patients and our team, making sure we have a strong business to kick start back into action and not going nuts at home with 3 energetic boys.
And how can people find out more?
Our website is great, but for the latest updates and a little of what goes on behind the scenes, our social media is @hunterplasticsurgery. And people can follow me too on Instagram @mrsmoncrieff