So, to start things off: tell us a bit about yourselves, and your backgrounds!
Alison: Ha – this sounds like the first (classic) question in a job interview!
Well, I’m a Melbourne girl born-and-bred: went to high school at PLC, and grew up in Hawthorn and Richmond. I’m the youngest of three girls: my dad passed away when I was 14yo, so it was an all-female household thereafter. My sisters and I were lucky to grow up in a very feminist household, where female ambition and independence was strongly encouraged.
My oldest sister trained as a lawyer, and my middle sister is also a doctor. Mum used to joke that I should go in to accounting or plumbing, so that I’d have something to add to the family’s skills. I guess surgery is just plumbing of a different sort?!
I went to medical school at Melbourne Uni, then did my obstetric and gynaecology training at The Royal Women’s Hospital. I’ve had stints along the way in Manchester, Darwin, Singapore, London, and Sydney, which has been fun. Now back home for good, and loving being more settled.
Sneha: I’m a second generation Australian-Indian, born to parents who migrated from India in the late 70’s after the white Australia policy was lifted, and Australia was encouraging skilled migrants to move here. I imagine it was a hard slog in Australia for my parents in those days, it certainly was for me. Racism was rife and my early schooling experience was challenging to say the least.
After school I moved to Adelaide to study medicine. This was a big move, and I was homesick for a few years, before finally embracing my independence. I realised that opportunity can exist anywhere, and I subsequently followed the opportunities that presented themselves to me. I worked in Queensland (the Gold Coast and Brisbane) then moved to Alice Springs to pursue an interest in O&G and indigenous health. This is where I found my passion for Obstetrics, late one night, caring for a lovely young indigenous couple welcoming their first baby. After the baby was born, we were given the number of the public phone in the middle of town and told “Call our community, and tell them we had a baby!”. When asked, who we should speak to, the response was “Whoever answers!”.
I worked for MSF in Haiti, as part of the post-earthquake emergency response, and found out I had been accepted to the O&G training program while I was over there. I did my training in Queensland, before finally finding my way back to Melbourne. My parents are glad to have me back finally!
How did you both end up in keyhole gynaecology surgery? It seems like a pretty niche area?
Alison: When I graduated from medical school, I wasn’t sure which area I wanted to end in: the list included obstetrics and gynaecology, general practice, public health, and paediatrics, amongst others. I completed my internship and the following year in Ballarat, including a six month obstetric and gynaecology rotation, which I loved! I really enjoyed the mix of medicine (prescribing medications) and surgery, and relished that most patients were young, healthy, and wanted to be under your care. I took a year off to complete my Masters of Public Health in London, applied for the obstetric and gynaecology training program, got on, and did my basic training through The Royal Women’s Hospital.
As I got towards the end of my obstetrics and gynaecology training, I realised that my true passion was keyhole surgery: it seemed to come relatively easily to me, and I loved both the technical and problem-solving aspects, plus interacting with the patients we could help using laparoscopy. I completed a Masters of Surgical Education to learn more about how to teach keyhole surgery, then a two year keyhole surgery Fellowship in Sydney to learn the technical aspects of keyhole gynaecological surgery in particular.
My public appointments currently include two Caesarean section lists a month (at The Northern Hospital), which provides my requisite dose of newborn cuddles.
Sneha: It wasn’t actually a conscious decision for me. I knew I was a good surgeon, had good technical skills, and wanted to grow them, but I had just moved to Melbourne from Brisbane, and wasn’t familiar with the jobs available here. I was on maternity leave with my first child. I interviewed for a few positions and was knocked back as I wasn’t known by the hospitals. I was feeling pretty down about this, and then interviewed for a training position in laparoscopic gynaecology when my daughter was 4 weeks old. I was offered the position, which would commence when she was 9 months old, which ended up working perfectly for me.
In retrospect, I’m very grateful to have had that opportunity, as it did change the course of my career. From there onwards, I’ve grown my skills and knowledge, and working in this area has allowed me the opportunity to connect – really connect – with women everyday.
How did you two meet?
Alison: Sneha and I worked together in 2014, when we were both working at The Royal Women’s Hospital as registrars (trainees in the obstetric and gynaecology training program). We just hit it off on a personal level – we were at a similar life stage, and had similar values and life goals. We became friends then, and stayed in touch over the ensuing years.
During my last year in Sydney (2021), I started to ponder what I wanted to do with my life once I’d finished my keyhole gynaecology Fellowship. I wanted to move home to Melbourne, and had a dream of setting up a gynaecology-based women’s health clinic in the western suburbs. I reached out to Sneha, and the rest is history!
Sneha: Al reached out to me at the right time. Again, I was pregnant with my third child, and about to go on maternity leave. I believe these breaks in work give us an opportunity to sit back and take stock, to see which doors are open for us. Sometimes it’s hard to see those doors when you’re busy working! It was the right time for me personally and professionally, and so Al and I got to work. Starting my own business isn’t something I was working towards, but now that we’re in it and doing it – I absolutely love it. I love being able to craft a practice into what I want it to be.
What motivated you to set up Maven Centre?
Sneha: I have worked in a number of private practices and public hospitals. I’ve seen things done a lot of different ways. Not all of them good. Everyone wants to feel listened to, and valued. Both patients and clinicians. I wanted to create a space where I felt listened to and valued, all the clinicians we brought on board felt listened to and valued, and all the patients felt like they were at the centre of that care. That they had all these eyes on them and that they would be safe in our hands.
Setting up in the western suburbs was a no brainer. The area has a booming population, and underserviced. I already work across the road at JKWC, and it’s certainly an advantage to be able to consolidate my work geographically also.
Alison: Growing up in an all-female and strongly feminist household, I love the idea of women helping women. I’d worked in two different private practices, and seen the ins and outs of how they were run: there were some elements that I liked and wanted to emulate, but many that I did not. Living in the western suburbs myself, I know that it’s an area that’s under-serviced from a gynaecology point-of-view.
Establishing Maven Centre with Sneha has been a lot of hard work, but I’m looking forward to seeing what good we can do, by providing our services to the women of the western suburbs and beyond!
How did you decide upon ‘Maven Centre’ as your name?
Alison: We wanted to create something that was bigger than (and can potentially outlast) either of us, plus wasn’t tied to a particular suburb. ‘Maven’ means ‘one who is knowledgeable’, or an expert; for me it has connotations of a female expert. I think there’s also a Hebrew and/or Yiddish root, which means ‘one who understands’. These meanings tied into our motivations for setting up Maven Centre: a team of women who are both experts in their field, but also personably and understanding.
How have you chosen the clinicians that are part of the Maven Centre team?
Sneha: All the clinicians at Maven Centre are people that we have worked with, and who we know to be highly skilled at what they do. What’s been most important though is that all of our values align. All Maven Centre clinicians put patients at the heart of all their decisions.
What are your hopes for Maven Centre into the future?
Sneha: My vision is for a thriving practice, where women and clinicians feel safe. I hope we can have an open mind and be creative in our approach to how we provide care, so that we can provide the best to our patients.
Alison: Well, like I mentioned earlier, I’d like to think that Maven Centre will provide a valuable service to the women of the western suburbs and beyond! If all goes well, we hope to expand into a bigger and/or second site over the coming years, and potentially bring additional clinicians on-board.
My understanding is that Sunshine Private Hospital doesn’t plan to offer obstetrics at this stage: should they choose to do so in future, we have many friends who would love to offer obstetric services in the western suburbs.
Well, Sneha and Alison: thanks for your time, and all the best with Maven Centre into the future!