Doctorpreneurs: Dr Matthew Zoeller

This week's Doctorpreneur of Doctology is Dr Matthew Zoeller.

Born and bred on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, Matthew is an Intensive Care Specialist, now working close on his home turf as Director of Education and Training (Supervisor of Training) at the Northern Beaches Hospital.

As a father to a daughter, and another due in a few months, Matthew started My Mirror to embark on his biggest challenge yet - solving the Australian mental health crisis with a modern, scalable solution capable of matching up against the size of the problem.

What organisation / startup are you founder of?

My Mirror.

What is its noble purpose?

My Mirror is a social enterprise with a commercial engine, built to achieve the lofty goal of providing a unique digital solution to the Australian mental health crisis. We've made services available to all demographics, industries, socio-economic predispositions and geographical locations. 

I started the company with the aim of helping Healthcare and Frontline workers. I then built and evolved the model to suit all Australians. From anywhere. At any time.   

Tell me about the first 10 years of your life?

I grew up 400m from the beach and led a charmed lower middle-class life from the start. As the son of a surfboard maker, I have been a surfer since I could walk. My dad still owns his company, Energy Surfboards – the home of the original three fin thruster – and he still makes me surfboards to this day. As a youngster, when I was not surfing, I was competing at nippers, enjoying ocean swims and played rugby.

I’m also the son of a whip-smart mother who, despite having no formal education, instilled me with ambition for higher achievement.

My grandfather and hero – Allan Peter Ryan – laid my intellectual foundations. He was a chemical engineer, intellectual powerhouse and master of everything he touched, including business ventures selling lesser known inventions like the self-driving golf buggy. I grew up with his voice in my head, “There are two types of people in this world: those that let it happen, and those that make it happen. Who will you be?”.

I’m a brother to two loving siblings and I was lucky enough to have handfuls of loving cousins to grow up with.

My early education was in a standard local primary school setting, collecting  

cicadas in summer, silkworms in the spring, and surfing before and after school most days.  

What age were you when you had your first paying job? What was it?

At eleven years old I have two paper rounds.

What made you want to be a doctor and what specialty did you choose? Why?

Interestingly, I started a scholarship called ‘Future business leaders’, an accounting program at UTS.

I started this straight out of high school and after the first six months I couldn't handle the primary focus being on the generation of money. I looked towards a career with more inherent purpose, which led me to gain entry to UWA MBBS program the next year.

Initially, I started the ACEM training program and then started dual training with CICM before realising intensive care would provide me with more sustainable interest in the long term. When I finished my intensive care Fellowship at Post-Graduate Year 10, I decided to forego another exit exam (ACEM) in favour of having jumped through enough medical hoops by that time.

Critical care suits my temperament and personality more than most specialities and it affords an ability to frequently stand outside of the technical medical mindset. I have always enjoyed the opportunity to be able to spend time considering systems processes, human factors and the real-world benefit of cultivating non-technical communication skills.

What made you want to be an entrepreneur or follow an alternative route? When exactly did you decide?

I never decided to become an entrepreneur and never considered myself to be one, right up until Doctology contacted me, to be candidly honest.

I started this social enterprise because I found myself immersed with ambition to solve healthcare related welfare issues, more so than furthering the development of the clinical knowledge of my profession. I was the initial lead in charge of setting up a large scale hospital-/ district wide mentorship program (Sydney Local Health District and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital) that has since become very successful with regards to hospital wide consistent mentorship training processes to ensure the delivery of safe and effective mentorship sessions in various departments.

As a consultant fellow I became an early supervisor of training and then a Director of Education and training at the Northern Beaches Hospital. In addition to this, I set up nursing welfare programs focused around cultural improvement and staff psychological resilience cultivation. Throughout my senior registrar and fellowship years, I was also the critical care expert on the Clinical Excellence Commission RCA General Committee, which means I analysed hundreds of SAC 1 RCAs developing my ability to see a signal in the noise.

The combination of all these non-clinical responsibilities led me to the desire to create a commercially self-supporting and agile social enterprise to tackle the mental health crisis that I saw looming day to day in the hospital world around me.

Burnout, bullying, harassment and a strained traditional clinical culture appeared to be a significant problem that was not improving despite the increasing awareness and recognition of such problems. I wanted to have full control to make my impact in the way I knew I could provide the most benefit. I wanted to be able to create a scalable digital psychology services solution that would be capable of eliminating as many barriers to accessing help as possible – and from within the four virtual walls of our online enterprise.

The My Mirror team is made up of people and supporters of a high calibre that appreciate my philosophical underpinnings, goals and methods of achieving our aims. After a surf trip to PNG for 10 days where I spent up to eight hours per day in the water staring at the horizon waiting for waves, I was injected with the creative inspiration that gave birth to this enterprise concept.

My co-founder, Josh Liwszyc, and I then set out to see if we could turn the idea into a reality. I'm very proud of my team that has worked so hard to get us through our first year of development. I'm also incredibly proud to say that we have a highly horizontal, inspired, passionate and family-like culture that makes every minute spent on our business a joy to be involved with.

Are you still practising as a doctor now? If yes, do you still intend to stop if My Mirror takes off?

Yes, I’m still working full time as an intensive care specialist. I focus in the day in front of me and I try not to concern myself with whether I will be a practicing intensivist or not in the future. Check back in with me in five years!

Why do you think traditionally many doctors struggle with entrepreneurship? Or at least they are perceived to?

Medically trained individuals inherently have many elements of entrepreneurial success within their make up as clinicians including: leadership, team management, work ethic, intelligence and the type A personality. All of these characteristics provide a foundation for high levels of achievement across the board.

Medicine is a pathway. If you work hard and do what’s expected, then the success is there for those who want to put their heads down. It’s not a creative career in most respects and most of the time it is perceived as risky to go out on a limb and try something out of the medical box. 

Most clinicians become fairly risk averse when it comes to challenging their career direction and would rather choose a path well worn. During my few years as a supervisor of training, I have had countless discussions with junior doctors who are incredibly intelligent, capable and interesting but cannot find a medical speciality to squeeze themselves into.

It has always saddened me that most of these junior doctors appear afraid to even discuss a career outside of medicine. Psychological distress is real concern for trainees who are struggling with, often years of conflict over which speciality they should choose. Often from the outside, in my experience, a better solution would be to extend their gaze outside of medicine in order to broaden their career options.

Like I mentioned earlier, I didn't set out to become an entrepreneur, but I can now clearly see the freedom in the movement towards something less boxed-in than the medical career pathway. Like anything where freedom is a feature, you are likely to have a higher risk of failure.

In the end though, it should be about spending everyday contributing to something you believe in, and not just worrying about achieving a five, or ten, year concrete plan in a future you will never see (philosophically speaking).

What is your favourite quote?

It is pretty clichéd but it suits my purposes at the moment:

“Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

-Steve Jobs.

What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

To a large extent, most of us are scarily already plugged in like zombies. But if we’re talking about a legit apocalypse, I'd probably board up the house, turn on the generator, and watch a marathon of zombie movies on Netflix. I’d take relevant survival notes and then get to work training myself how to swing a shovel like a Samurai.

How do we find out more about My Mirror?

Check out

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