“There are so many people in chronic pain and it interferes with their lives. What makes me happiest is having the ability to offer services that aren’t provided through the public health care system, being able to help people and hopefully make a difference in their lives.”– Dr. Richard Brownlee
Dr. Brownlee is a neurosurgeon and the Chief of Surgery at Royal Inland Hospital in Kamloops where he has worked since 1996. He is also the director and co-owner of the ‘Welcome Back Clinic – MRI and Pain Management Centre’ (also in Kamloops and conveniently located across the street from the hospital).
The clinic offers a variety of pain management treatments including physiotherapy, regenerative medicine (Stem cell and Plate Rich Plasma therapy) and rhizotomy (a treatment that uses an electric current to cauterize nerves that transmit pain from the affected joint to the brain). They also offer access to Canada’s only upright MRI which can provide more accurate pain location than a traditional MRI. It’s also a more comfortable option for people who may experience claustrophobia as well as for those who have an impaired ability to lie down due to a spinal injury.
After meeting with Dr. Brownlee, it’s apparent that he has a genuine passion for wanting to alleviate his patients’ chronic pain. Operating a private clinic allows him to treat the people that come to him quickly and often with some of the latest technology and as a result, the clinic sees people from all over the country seeking relief.
We talked to Dr. Brownlee about how he helps those in chronic pain, what he’s learned in business and his experience working with Interior Savings.
What’s your name, title and the name of your business?
I’m Doctor Richard Brownlee and I’m a neurosurgeon at the Royal Inland Hospital. Our business is called the ‘Welcome Back Clinic – MRI and Pain Management Centre’ in Kamloops.
What does your business do?
As a neurosurgeon, I operate on people with spine and brain problems and a lot of that involves pain. This clinic is a diagnostic and treatment centre for people with pain-related problems. We have an upright MRI were we can image people with spinal issues, but we also do brain, knee and hip imaging as well. We have a fluoroscopy suite where we can do injections to freeze different structures to try and figure out where people’s pain is coming from. We also perform procedures to try and relieve pain including ‘Stem Cell Therapy’ for osteoarthritis in the joints and something called a ‘rhizotomy’ for treating people with back and neck pain. It’s really a great place to work because we get to help people every day.
Who or what inspires you in business or personally?
The thing that inspires me is the ability to offer a service that isn’t really provided through the public health care system. We can do things for our patients here that I personally can’t do in the public system because I have to refer them to other people – which can mean a long period of waiting prior to being treated. Here I can do things like the injections myself to try and figure out where a person’s pain is coming from. Then I can sit and talk with them to try and determine what’s wrong and what we can do to help. There are so many people in chronic pain and it can really take a toll on them. They can get addicted to narcotics and all sorts of things. So the thing that makes me happiest is that we can help people and hopefully make a difference in their lives.
What has been the biggest hurdle you’ve had to overcome as an entrepreneur?
Learning how to run a business. When you go to medical school nobody teaches you anything about business! So I’ve had to learn a lot. Some of it the hard way, some by reading, some by talking to other people. But when you’re in an industry like ‘private health care’, which doesn’t really exist in Canada, there aren’t many other business owners in the same industry you can approach for advice – so we’ve had to learn a lot along the way. And obviously the financial aspect of running a business is one of the hardest parts. And the other thing is marketing and advertising. Trying to figure out how to market this type of business has been a hurdle.
What’s one piece of advice you would give other entrepreneurs or those starting out in business for themselves?
Find somebody with experience to help guide you. When we started out we didn’t know anything about business. Having a mentor would be very helpful and help you avoid mistakes. You can learn from mistakes but if you can avoid them, that would be better.
Tell me about your experience working with Interior Savings.
As background: we opened our business in 2008 and we had just purchased the Upright MRI machine that cost over $2 million US; this business was $7 million in total. So we had a bank loan as well as some investors to finance the operation. Then, due to the recession, the delivery of our MRI machine was delayed by a year – which put is in a difficult financial situation. The bank that had originally loaned us the money decided to discontinue the loan. Interior Savings was very helpful in re-establishing the loan to keep the business afloat. And the people there have just been so good to work with. They provided the funding we needed and re-negotiate our loans on a regular basis to make sure it stays affordable. We’ve been very happy with Interior Savings and I’d recommend them to any entrepreneur who’s opening a business.
What aspect of your business or professional life are you most proud of?
Being innovative. A lot of people, when they go into medicine, are trained to do things in a certain way and that’s what they do for their whole career. There is of course continuing medical education which is great but I like the idea of doing new things and pioneering some of the treatments and procedures in our field. A lot of the surgeries that we do, I’ve gone away and learned and then brought back to the community. I’m also proud of the fact that this business allows us to treat people that would otherwise be waiting months or even years to be treated. Chronic pain is one of those things that is poorly treated; a lot of medical professionals don’t like dealing with people with chronic pain partly because they don’t know what to do with them. But I think that if you have the right approach and spend the time talking with people, you really can do a lot to help them. That’s what I find most rewarding.