Failing, Floundering and Pantless

Dr. Vincent Lam, a prominent ER physician from the East Toronto General Hospital as well as the author of the Giller Prize winning novel, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, was invited to the University of Western Ontario to impart some words of wisdom for both those aspiring and presently in the Medical Field, as well as anyone who has a dream to follow.

Mixed with laughs and serious words, Lam structured his talk as a series of three stories drawn from his own experience as an undergraduate student, a medical student, and a practicing physician. He began with a lesson; always follow your dream. Surprisingly, for someone of his calibre, it was writing, not medicine which was his calling. In fact medicine was initially his means to an end in order to become a writer. He learned very quickly that the road to become a medical student was not one to be taken half-heartedly. It was his initial failure as a student which led him to discover medicine. He urged that medicine is something to be pursued for its own sake, not as a means to an end.

His second lesson was to ask for help when it was needed. As a medical cleric during his third year of medical school, he had found himself overwhelmed with duties and in hindsight, asking for help would have been a much better decision than attempting everything alone. Books alone can only help so much. It is the interaction between people which leads to true learning. Well that “[and a bit of common sense]”.

His final lesson was to “be passionate”. He told a story of a vacation he took to Costa Rica when in his first year of practicing medicine. He had returned from his colleagues from a camping trip and had rushed out of the shower when the group was hailed by the hotel owner to help a man seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision. On the way to the accident site, he had realized he was still wearing only his towel. Naturally the crowd burst with laughter, but it is important to see the passion he has; to disregard his own state of being and thinking only about helping a patient.

He ended his talk with the story behind his book. He had begun a novel before undergraduate, however returning to it, as an established physician, he felt it wasn’t something he could write at that time. From this realization he dabbled in writing a story regarding medicine. From this exercise came Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. His final message to the audience was never to give up and that life has the ability to throw twists and turns. Even though one cannot enter the medical profession for the purpose of using it as supplementation for a different career, hobbies, and interests will inevitably shape one’s practice. Medicine is like a story for each individual. From the family history to the ultimate treatment and cure, the process by which a patient regains their life is an intimate tale between the physician and the individual. It is that story that he himself tries to relate to and which makes the patient’s time in care rewarding.

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