Alumni in Focus: Dr David Lam
Recently named GP of the Year, Dr David Lam (MBBS 2012) had originally planned to study Jazz at the Elder Conservatorium.
Now combining his love of music and medicine, he currently works as a rural GP in Port Lincoln, as well as a professional musician, and most recently has created a series of medical education podcasts aimed at teaching junior doctors during the pandemic.
What are your hobbies?
Recently, my hobbies include playing song requests on the piano and streaming it online for those caught in social isolation, boxing and learning languages. I currently speak English, French and Cantonese Chinese. I’m trying to add Spanish, Portuguese and Italian to my repertoire. My fluency won’t be amazing but I aim to at least be able to crack jokes in these languages.
Favourite place to eat in Adelaide
My favourite restaurants are Madame Hanoi (for the watermelon, mint and roast duck), Peel St (for the banana blossom, coconut and chicken salad) and Yen Linh (for the combination phõ).
If I could go back to my university days I would…
Tell myself to stop trying to do everything perfectly, stop striving to win everything and that you don’t have to say yes to every single opportunity. These behaviours wear you out too quickly and you miss out on enjoying things right in front of you, be that conversations with fascinating people, trying delicious foods or visiting interesting places.
Most prized possession
Our Bösendorfer upright piano. It is a family heirloom belonging to my grandmother-in-law. It was custom made in Vienna, survived the transcontinental journey to Whyalla in South Australia, then Adelaide then back out to Port Lincoln. It carries the music of the generations deep in its timber soul.
I can’t get enough of
Music. It fascinates me how so many different sounds and emotions can be carried through the infinite permutations of just four beats in a bar and only twelve different notes. I’m always looking for ways to combine new styles and classic songs when I play guitar and piano or DJ (lambrosmusic.com).
Something that makes you smile
Looking at travel photos of my girlfriend and I makes me smile. As healthcare workers, the both of us work so very hard to look after everyone. When we are on adventures overseas, it is just us doing things for ourselves and that makes me smile.
Something you are grateful for
I’m grateful for the courage and sacrifices of my grandfather. He survived war, racial persecution and poverty to become one of the first international graduates of the University of Adelaide School of Medicine. He served as an Australian Royal Flying Doctor and the Regional Medical Director of the Australian High Commission in South East Asia. It is because of his daring and pioneering that we have been able to grow up safe in Australia.
If I could pursue a different career I would…
I originally wanted and still desire to study jazz at the Elder Conservatorium of Music. When I’m playing music, that’s the real me. It is where I can truly express myself in all the sounds, colours and sensations that define me.
The most valuable lesson I have learned
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned is that, while planning is important, it’s ok to make mistakes and plunge headfirst into the unknown. Some of my best creations are born of mistakes and spontaneity combined with curiosity. I was a classically trained musician who didn’t know the first thing about being a DJ. But I gave it a go and now I tour across the entire country. I also didn’t have huge expectations when I started tape recording myself teaching junior doctors in my town. Now, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, these recordings have become the basis of the “GP Lyf Hacks” medical education podcast, with hundreds of listeners tuning in online across the country to learn in the absence of face-to-face teaching.
I cannot get through the day without
Sipping loose leaf tea brewed in a Japanese cast iron teapot.
Three words your closest friends would use to describe you
Passionate, loyal and considerate.
My mother taught me
As a born leader, my mother taught me a lot about leadership. Both her parents were away on business a lot, leaving her to look after her six younger siblings. She worked hard and graduated as the only female civil engineer in her cohort at the University of Adelaide. She taught me that leadership is about two things. The first is making everyone on your team feel wanted. The second is never giving anyone else a task that you yourself are not prepared to do.
Your career path in two sentences or less
My career path consists of taking any opportunity to ensure that young people across Australia have equal opportunities to grow up safe, healthy and encouraged regardless of race, gender or postcode. Sometimes I do this through healthcare, other times I unite people with music.
Biggest career highlight
My biggest career highlight was being awarded the 2019 Royal Australian College of General Practitioners National General Practitioner of the Year amongst a profession of over 30,000 practitioners nation-wide. This was on the basis of my work as a rural doctor in remote South Australia, service to my local community, particularly in the area of mental health support, and for my contribution to medical education as Rural Medicine Coordinator at the University of Adelaide School of Medicine.
2020 is the year I will
2020 is the year I will have to adapt and innovate. After a successful Australian tour, I aimed to DJ overseas but the COVID pandemic has made this unsafe. I have adapted though and have taken the opportunity to produce new music in the studio. Travel bans and social distancing have also forced me to innovate my medical role. In 2020 I have embraced telehealth consulting and disseminating health information online through my podcast, “GP Lyf Hacks”. During the period of social distancing and loneliness, many of my patients have made it a point to inform me that the music I’ve put online has had a positive effect on their mental health. Hopefully, 2021 will also be the year where I formally combine the music and medicine into a therapeutic health service.
How I relax
Going out to the oval and practising kicking drop goals. Living in remote South Australia where the primary code is AFL, rugby skills like this will never be of any practical use. This is great because there is no pressure to be any good at kicking so it is purely for mindfulness and relaxation.
The biggest risk I have taken
The biggest risk I have taken was leaving the familiarity of metropolitan Adelaide four years ago and moving over 650km away to remote South Australia to serve the community there as a rural doctor (drdavidlam.com.au). It has been a tough job. There are few doctors in the area and so no matter what comes into the hospital, be it a car crash, heart attack or stroke, you have to deal with it personally. Nonetheless, it has been great to serve this community and a great opportunity to personally mentor junior doctors and medical students in the area, engage their passion for rural medicine and encourage them to remain working here in an area of need.