Vincent Lam Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Vincent Lam

Vincent Lam

An interview with Vincent Lam

Vincent Lam talks about how people become a slightly different version of themselves in the process of becoming a doctor, and about his first book, Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, which won the 2006 Giller Prize.

A Conversation with Dr. Vincent Lam author of Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

Which came first: your interest in medicine, or your interest in writing?

My first desire was to write. Since many of the writers whom I admired participated vigorously in the world, I thought that I should do likewise. Naively, I thought to pursue medicine because it seemed like an ideal forum for character study.

Very soon I realized that medicine is far too involved to undertake simply for the purpose of observing humanity. I saw that because it was so demanding, the only sensible way to learn and practice medicine is to be fully committed to it for its own sake. By this point, I had become drawn to it and wished very much to train and work as a doctor.

The training was so consuming that I wasn't able to write for years, not until I had finished my residency and had begun my practice as an emergency physician. By that point, it had also provided me with a few things to write about.


You’ve said in that you wanted to write about how people "become a slightly different version of themselves in the process of becoming a doctor." What do you mean by that, and why do you think it happens?

When I decided to dedicate a big piece of my life to medicine, it was because I wanted to help people, which is to say that I wanted to be involved in their lives. Many people are drawn to doctoring by this instinct to connect with people in need, and to do some good for them. This is a very tender and well-meaning sentiment.

As it turns out, however, one of the very fundamental lessons of medical training is that although one must be empathic and compassionate, a good doctor is also able to observe with detachment, and to keep a cool head even when emotional stakes are high. In a certain quiet place within their heart, a doctor must sometimes withdraw from their natural instinct to connect with people. This changes a young doctor, as a person.

In order to help patients, a doctor must be able to observe them the way a writer considers characters—from the omniscient point of view. Then, there is the reality that doctors are not omniscient (even though we sometimes must make decisions which only an all-seeing being should make).

Though we make what we suppose to be the best possible decisions for our patients, sometimes things don't go as well as we had hoped. Sometimes, unfortunate things happen to good people, even though we try our best. This also changes a young doctor's outlook upon the whole enterprise. I could say more... but I've said it better in my fiction.


Of the four main characters in the book—Fitz, Ming, Chen and Sri—who do you identify with the most?

All of these characters are a little bit of myself, drawn to extremes. Which one I identify the most with depends entirely on what kind of a day I'm having.


How do you balance your dual professions as both doctor and writer? When do you find the time to write?

In terms of my working energy, doctoring and writing are very different, and therefore very compatible. Medicine is driven by the external, by the problem placed in front of me. Writing is very internal, and contemplative. It is driven by my mental journey. I can be tired from one, and still have energy for the other. Emergency medicine is shift work, and is very scheduled. Perhaps because of this, I schedule my writing time as well. It's the only way to make it happen.


What have you learned about yourself as a doctor and professional through your storytelling?

Every time I meet a patient in the Emergency Room, I'm trying to understand a story. The patient tells me what they have been experiencing, with the symptoms as the characters in this narrative. This is the opening chapter. My job is to make sense of the plot, the arc of it. Only once I've caught the thread, I can begin to fit the story into a proposed diagnosis, and a suggested course of testing and treatment.

If the first part of my job is to understand the story I've been given, the next thing I'm supposed to do is tell the ending of that story. I've got to give my patient some sense of where the arc is going, and what some of the next chapters might be. If I make a diagnosis, I need to explain this diagnosis in a way that it makes sense in my patient's life.

A big part of my job as a doctor is to help people see where their personal story might be headed. The other thing I do is to offer appropriate medical treatment. Or, in other words, I try to make the ending of the story better than it would have been.


Are there any writing physicians you admire?

In no particular order... Anton Chekhov, Jerome Groopman, Khaled Hosseini, Oliver Sacks, Atul Gawande, Williams Carlos Williams and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Books by this Author

Books by Vincent Lam at BookBrowse
The Headmaster's Wager jacket Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures jacket
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

All the books below are recommended as readalikes for Vincent Lam but some maybe more relevant to you than others depending on which books by the author you have read and enjoyed. So look for the suggested read-alikes by title linked on the right.
How we choose readalikes

  • Chris Adrian

    Chris Adrian

    Chris Adrian was born in Washington, D.C. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he received his MD from East Virginia Medical School. "Every Night for a Thousand Years", the New Yorker story from which this ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures

    Try:
    A Better Angel
    by Chris Adrian

  • Tahmima Anam

    Tahmima Anam

    Tahmima Anam is the recipient of a Commonwealth Writers Prize, an O. Henry Prize, and has been named one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists. She is a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times and was recently ... (more)

    If you enjoyed:
    The Headmaster's Wager

    Try:
    A Golden Age
    by Tahmima Anam

We recommend 13 similar authors

View all 13 Readalikes

Non-members can see 2 results. Become a member
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

and discover exceptional books
for just $3.75 per month.

Find out more


Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Moth
    Moth
    by Melody Razak
    On August 15, 1947, India gained independence from the United Kingdom, and on that same day the ...
  • Book Jacket: All the Lonely People
    All the Lonely People
    by Mike Gayle
    Mike Gayle's charming novel All the Lonely People introduces us to Hubert Bird, an 82-year-old ...
  • Book Jacket: Perish
    Perish
    by LaToya Watkins
    It's a commonly cited fact that many perpetrators of sexual abuse, particularly men, are victims of ...
  • Book Jacket: Afterlives
    Afterlives
    by Abdulrazak Gurnah
    Afterlives, from Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, begins in late 19th century East Africa in ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Ways We Hide
by Kristina McMorris
From the bestselling author of Sold On A Monday, a sweeping tale of an illusionist recruited by British intelligence in World War II.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    Natural History
    by Andrea Barrett

    A masterful new collection of interconnected stories, from the renowned National Book Award–winning author.

  • Book Jacket

    The Family Izquierdo
    by Rubén Degollado

    A masterful debut that weaves together the lives of three generations of a Mexican American family bound by love, and a curse.

Who Said...

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

Y Can't G H A

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.