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Unstoppable orthodontist, Dr Balya Sriram, runs two suburban practices in Adelaide while caring for her patients on Kangaroo Island. By Frank Leggett
Dr Balya Sriram was thrown in the deep end when she purchased the orthodontic practice where she was employed. It was her first foray into business ownership and not only was she taking over a practice with six locations, she had to commit to maintaining orthodontic services on a remote island.
New business owner
Dr Sriram began working at Moore Bajada Orthodontics in the Adelaide suburb of Rose Park in 2013. She was mentored and tutored by longtime practice owners, Drs Grahame Moore and Stephen Bajada. Not only was the business well established, it had practices in six locations. When Drs Moore and Bajada decided to sell in 2016, Dr Sriram grasped the opportunity to buy the business outright.
Dr Moore had been serving the community on Kangaroo Island for the past 30 years. “I was keen to continue Dr Moore’s work and not leave the island’s inhabitants in the lurch,” she says. “Like him, I would visit and use borrowed rooms from one of the local dentists to see patients there.”
Having rebranded her business as Gentle Touch Orthodontics, Dr Sriram travelled regularly to Kangaroo Island to service the community. She has many school age patients in treatment who only visited Adelaide very infrequently.
“I would fly out in the morning and spend a whole day seeing patients,” says Dr Sriram. “There was plenty of time to take care of everybody’s needs and have a laugh at the same time.”
Unfortunately, recent events have meant her Kangaroo Island patients have no choice but to travel to Adelaide. The bushfires virtually killed the tourism industry of the island, resulting in flights being reduced. Then COVID-19 and the lockdowns hit, hugely impacting many regional airlines. REX cancelled their service to Kangaroo Island and Dr Sriram has been unable to visit for over 12 months.
“The last time I was there was March of 2020,” says Dr Sriram. “It was just after the bushfires and it was a heartbreaking sight. Thankfully, our patients are very faithful and have continued to visit us in Adelaide. It’s lovely that we can maintain that connection and I hope to restart visits again.”
Taking care of business
As a new business owner, Dr Sriram knew she had some big challenges in front of her. As is often the case, it’s all a matter of controlling the things you can control and making the most of what you can’t.
“I knew very early on that I had bitten off more than I could chew,” she says. “I had a small child and wanted to have more children. I also underestimated how difficult it is to own a specialty practice and provide the high-level of care to which I was committed.”
Dr Sriram kept the Rose Park, Kilkenny and Kangaroo Island locations in operation and sold off the other practices. In 2018, less than two years after taking ownership, Dr Sriram decided to move both Adelaide practices to new buildings with purpose designed fit-outs. “My husband spotted a ‘for sale’ sign on a building a couple of doors down from our Rose Park practice,” she says. “It was perfect.”
She contacted Peter Arnot, one of the directors of Levitch Design Australia, who had designed a Sydney practice she admired. Arnot and the team at Levitch Design Australia created a practice that reflects Dr Sriram’s friendly, caring nature.
“We added colours with real impact while the timber panelling and use of materials provides cohesion between professionalism and friendly, ethical care,” says Arnot. “The first impression of this practice is fun and friendly while simultaneously signifying that the level of care is of a very high standard.”
Patients seated in dental chairs for their appointments look through a large window at a landscape wall. Dr Sriram had this designed by a local landscape architect. “It’s a fantastic blend of her brand colours and logo,” says Arnot. “It provides a unique feature on what would have been a bland block wall.”
“I soon realised that my Kilkenny patients needed great rooms too,” says Dr Sriram, “so we did it again.”
The new St Clair building is within two kilometres of the original Kilkenny practice and within easy reach of public transport. This was important as many of Dr Sriram’s patients are adolescents who attend their appointments without parents. She decided to use a local firm for her second fit-out and employed Michael Lewington from Health Space Construction & Interiors to do the build.
“My main priority during this time was to ensure that patients and staff were inconvenienced as little as possible,” says Dr Sriram. “We scheduled the builds a year apart and that was a great decision. There was no need to shut down; we just moved patients from one practice to the other. I’m so happy with the results.”
While COVID-19 and the lockdowns impacted everyone, Dr Sriram has seen some positive changes as a result of the pandemic—particularly with her Kangaroo Island clients.
“The various ways we keep in touch with patients has changed dramatically,” she says. “Patients are really comfortable with having a Zoom or FaceTime consultation to show me something that doesn’t quite look right.”
With two new practices, a hopeful return to Kangaroo Island, an overflowing appointment book and a young family, Dr Sriram is looking forward to a busy and productive future.
“I started my business to provide a high standard of orthodontics in a practice where I would be happy to take my kids,” she says. “I feel confident that I have achieved that. I have a wonderful team who supports me and we’re always trying to get better. I guess that’s my five-year plan—to keep getting better.”