Introducing the 2019 Cairns Business Women’s Club Cairns Business Woman of the Year, Tarlia Rajeswaran.
Nursing is an underrated and often thankless career choice. For one, you need a strong stomach and an even stronger constitution. Whether they are assisting with routine endoscopies or running busy clinics, nurses are the lifeblood of patient care. They need to genuinely care for patients, but still keep their heads when they are not doing so well.
As a nurse working in private practice, Tarlia Rajeswaran has always been far more comfortable with sutures, blood and making others feel cared for than speaking about her achievements. Her ability to gain respect from colleagues and patients has now been recognised with the top honour at the Cairns Business Women’s Club – in just her first entry in the annual awards and resulting from an anonymous nomination, Tarlia was named the 2019 Cairns Business Woman of the Year.
Tarlia is Owner and Operations Manager for FNQH Skin Cancer Clinic, Cairns’ first fully bulk billing skin cancer clinic, alongside her husband Dr Vin Rajeswaran, a respected skin cancer doctor. Moving to Cairns in 2017 after running both the Cairns and Innisfail clinics remotely from Brisbane for over a year, the path in business has not been an easy one. However, with her demonstrated resilience, passion, self-sacrifice to her career and family, Tarlia has proven she has the determination to rise above challenges both personally and professionally.
“FNQH Skin Cancer Clinic came about when we visited Cairns in 2015 for a Skin Cancer Symposium,” says Tarlia. “We realised there was not one fully bulk billing skin cancer clinic here, and definitely saw a need for one in the Far North, so decided to fill it. In February 2016, FNQH was born between our family and a business partner.
“That May, the Cairns clinic was opened followed closely by the Innisfail clinic in July. I continued to remotely manage both clinics from Brisbane. In September 2016, our Cairns doctor resigned, and then our Innisfail doctor resigned to set up his own clinic. My husband then took on the role of being the sole doctor for both the Cairns and Innisfail clinics, just to try and keep them opened for the community. When he first started in the Cairns clinic, there were only 486 patients on the database. He would fly up on a Monday morning and then return to Brisbane Friday evenings. After several months, we decided that this arrangement wasn’t working for our family, so we upped and moved to Cairns on 1st January 2017.”
Slowly but surely, word of mouth grew that there was a completely bulk billing skin cancer clinic in Cairns and also in Innisfail, and not only did the patients start to flow, but so did the interest of doctors in the area to better their skills. “My husband and I started to run free education sessions for doctors with the help of North Queensland Public Health Network to advertise,” says Tarlia. “Training GP doctors then approached us asking if we were accredited as this would mean that they would be able to train with my husband in Skin Cancer Medicine and Surgery.
“We now have over 8000 patients on our Cairns database and 5800 on our Innisfail clinic database. All patients receive completely bulk billed skin cancer checks, biopsies and removal of skin cancers. There are now approximately five clinics in Cairns that offer bulk billed skin checks, but then will charge you for the excision and removal of a skin cancer. We will always ensure that the people of Far North Queensland have access to Medicare treatments for skin cancer. The primary reason for this is that my husband lost his mother to cancer, and has chosen to never charge patients for any cancer related treatments.”
Tarlia describes her management and leadership style as very similar to her teaching style and moto: “See one, do one, teach one,” she says. “I lead by example in that I don’t expect any members of staff to do what I am not prepared to do myself. In addition to managing the clinics and the staff, my role also includes the supervision and training of TAFE Queensland EN Nursing students, organising placements for work experience, medical students and also co-ordinating observer-ships for any doctors in the area who wish to come and watch skin cancer excisions and learn more.
“I also assist registrars and training doctors in theatre to teach wound closure and suturing techniques. We are the largest skin cancer clinic north of Mackay and the only accredited practice. We train nursing students, medical students and registrars, with the hope for ACRRM (Australian College of Rural and Remote Medicine) accreditation this year. This will allow any doctor throughout Australia to come and train within our clinic for a 12-month period in the area of skin cancer medicine and surgery. Hopefully then being able to show them the area and benefits of Cairns and surrounds, with the hope that they will permanently relocate to the area. We have two operating theatres within each clinic and can do many different type of skin cancer removal surgeries, not usually available without engaging a private plastic surgeon, or waiting on the public hospital waiting list.”
However, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing on the business frontier, with the clinic financial partnership on shaky ground. “In June 2018, the business relationship between our partner and ourselves soured, and we had no access to company financials or transparency within the business structure,” recalls Tarlia.
On a personal level, the stress took its toll. An unprovoked pulmonary embolism resulted in Tarlia losing a portion of her right lung; and to follow, four devastating miscarriages. “All of this pain I had tried my best to keep from my husband, in an attempt to allow him to be the best doctor and surgeon he could be for his patients, and the best teacher for his doctors. While he focussed on the medicine, I focused on the business. However, after all the stress, personal and family devastation and a lot of money in legal fees, we are now proud to say we are the sole owners of FNQH Pty Ltd. We have our practice, and I have my health.”
After moving interstate and leaving all family behind, then relocating again from Brisbane to Cairns and having no nearby family support, Tarlia prides herself on treating work colleagues and staff more like family than employees. “Everyone has their own personal struggles outside of work, and we cannot begin to imagine what one another are going through – so the least I can do as an employer is to ensure that my staff want to come to work in the morning, and actually look forward to it.
“In every aspect of my working career, I have always strived to achieve, no matter how terrifying it may have been. Never in my wildest dreams, while working as a nurse in a large tertiary hospital, did I believe that one day I would open, manage and grow two medical centres, providing a valuable service for our patients and community. The ability to achieve what feels like the most unreachable of dreams is how I encourage myself, my team and my family.
“Along with mutual respect and acknowledgement that each person not only hold their own personal and professional attributes, but that we are all continuously learning and receive the greatest knowledge from those we choose to surround ourselves with. I am proud to be right where I am today.”