Experienced emergency physician and renowned Canadian author Vincent Lam held a public lecture on Saturday for a Queen’s Reads Author Talks event.
The event, which took place in Grant Hall, brought over 50 people, mostly students, to listen to Lam’s impassioned speech on his path to becoming both a physician and novelist. It also included lessons he learned during these pivotal times in his life.
“When I was younger, my only desire was to write books,” he said. “And it occurred to me that the authors I read, like Hemingway, had been involved in the world in fascinating ways and they wrote about that. It occurred to me that I should do something interesting in the world, like my life on page. So that’s how I came to medicine.” The doctor then described the significance of his choice to put aside writing to solely focus on studying medicine.
Lam grew up in Ottawa and completed his medical training at the University of Toronto. He currently works as an emergency physician at Toronto East General Hospital.
After a few years of working as a physician, Lam decided to start writing again and chose to incorporate his medical experiences into his literature. His first fiction novel, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, which is a collection of short stories, earned in 2006 what is considered to be Canada’s most prestigious literary award: the Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Lam shared his thoughts on the challenges that all students face when choosing a career path, and the importance of asking for help during this time.
“It starts with the little steps that build through skill and knowledge towards the package that you aspire to be,” Lam said. “You’re all at an exciting and incredibly challenging point in your life, where you’re thinking about how to define your education and how to set the first stones in the foundation of your career. It’s important to be able to ask for help.”
One of the great things within the university environment is that there are people that have gone through the same experiences that students go through now, and they can easily be reached out to for help, Lam said.
Lam also stressed that it’s perfectly normal to have conflicting desires and interests, such as his interest in pursuing both medicine and literature.
“It’s okay to have a few different things that you love to do − to be torn between two different things,” he said. “It’s normal to come at things even if you’re a little bit unsure. But it’s extremely important to pay attention to the individual interests while you’re doing them.”
After Lam performed his speech, there was a short question and answer period, during which he answered questions related to his ability to seamlessly tie together his writing and doctoral careers.
“My favourite part of being a doctor, similar to writing, is the narrative component to it − maybe five years into my practice I realized people are constantly telling me stories,” he said about the incorporation of the two careers. “It’s like a narrative torch is being passed from the patient to doctor.”
Lam will continue to practice medicine while writing his new novel, which is still in the very early stages, he said. From the information he disclosed, the novel will be another piece of literature that ties in his life experiences with the world of fiction, perhaps with a less medical-related theme.
“With being a writer, I think I’m always exploring new territory within my imagination,” he said. “Being a writer has made me much more explicitly conscious of the importance of human stories and interaction.”
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