Less Trodden Paths

We all know that doctors are talented folks. Even though Hippocrates said that learning the art (of medicine) is long but life is short (Ars Longa, Vita Brevis), many doctors still find time to excel in a whole lot of things other than medicine.

For a start, these obvious overachievers are in politics. Across the Causeway, both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister are now doctors: Dr Mahathir and Dr Wan Azizah. If you think Dr Mahathir is the biggest or best example of a doctor-politician, overturning 61 years of UMNO rule, many will argue that Dr Sun Yat-Sen (Graduate of Hong Kong University) may have achieved something even greater. In 1912, he overturned more than 2000 years of dynasty rule in China with the founding of the Republic of China. He is recognised as the Father of modern China. But even if maybe not the greatest, Dr M certainly gets the prize of being the oldest medically-trained national leader at 92.

Then there is the Marxist guerilla leader of Cuba – Che Guevara. He’s really Argentinian and a doctor. He is most revered in Cuba and has been called “Castro’s brains”. He lived from 1928 to 1967 before he was gunned down in Bolivia.

President Georges Clemenceau who led France for two spells: 1906 to 09, 1917 to 1920 was also a doctor.

Finally, there is the infamous President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. Thousands have died in the ongoing civil war with one quarter of the population fleeing as refugees abroad and another quarter being internally displaced refugees. Guess what? Until he was recalled by his father (the original President Assad) to Syria to take over from his elder brother who died in an accident, he was a low-key guy practicing ophthalmology in London.

Many doctors also excelled as a man of letters. Many famous writers were doctors. The creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was a doctor. He applied a fair bit of medical knowledge to the mysteries he wrote. The late Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic World and the original Westworld, was a doctor.

Famous short-story writers, Russian Anton Chekhov and Chinese Lu Xun, were also medically trained. Lu Xun dropped out of medical school in Japan. But Anton Chekhov practiced medicine most of his life. In fact he said “medicine is my lawful wife and literature is my mistress”.

Somerset Maugham, the famous short-story writer author and playwright studied medicine in St Thomas Hospital (Now King’s College London). He recalled that medical education was beneficial to him as an author, “”I saw how men died. I saw how they bore pain. I saw what hope looked like, fear and relief”

For the realm of poetry, there is the Romantic Poet John Keats, who lived only for 26 years (1795 to 1821) and studied medicine in Guy’s Hospital (Now also part of King’s College) and wrote famous poems such as “Ode to a Nightingale”, “Sleep and Poetry” and “On First Looking into Chapman’s corner”.

Representing the female gender is Han Suyin. She wrote the famous novel “A Many Splendoured Thing” which was made into a film starring Jennifer Jones and William Holden. It was even made into a soap opera series that lasted 6 years in the United States. She was half Chinese, half Flemish and studied medicine in Brussels and she practiced medicine for quite a few years. In fact, she was a physician in Nanyang University (the original “Nantah”, precursor to NTU) in Singapore when it was founded in the fifties. She was actually invited by the University to teach literature then, but she refused, saying she wanted “to make a new Asian literature, not teach Dickens”.

In the area of mass media entertainment, there are also examples of doctors who made it big. Korean -American actor Ken Jeong  who starred in the over-the-top comedy trilogy  of “Hangover” movies is actually a licensed physician in California.

The famous Taiwanese singer Lo Ta-Yu (罗大佑) is also medically trained. He is generally regarded as one of the godfathers of Taiwanese rock.

New Age spiritual guru Deepak Chopra is also a doctor. And also a very well-trained one. He graduated from a top Indian medical school – All India Institute of Medical Sciences before completing his residency training in the United States in internal medicine and endocrinology. And then he gave that all up to be a guru. He is currently actually a voluntary full professor in the University of California, San Diego, in the Department Family Medicine and Public Health.

In the area of sports, there is the legendary Sir Roger Bannister. In 1954, he became the first man to run the mile under 4 minutes. He later became a much-respected neurologist in Pembroke College, Oxford. Interestingly, he wanted to be remembered more for his work in medicine than in sports. But alas, it is the latter that he is now famous for.

Then there is the captain of the Brazil football team in the 1982 World Cup, Socrates. He is recognised as one of the most accomplished footballers Brazil ever had. He actually earned his medical degree while playing world-class football! This is in contrast to many sportsmen and women who studied medicine after they had given up their sporting careers. A notable example of this is USA swimmer Jenny Thompson, winner of eight Olympic gold medals. She went on to pursue a career in medicine after retiring from swimming.

Lastly, there is an interesting area that many doctors, especially in Australia, like to venture into – the field of winemaking. Many Australian wine estates are named after their founders. These wine estates were generally founded in the 19th or early 20th century. Many wine drinkers will recognise these names instantly:

Penfolds, Hardy, Lindeman, Angove, Cullen, Houghton

They were all doctors. Dr Penfolds, Dr Lindeman, Dr Hardy etc….I guess doctors back then already knew that a glass or two of wine was good for you.

These names are some of the largest and most famous wineries Down Under. For example, Penfolds is the largest wine brand in Australia. Hardy and Lindeman are in the top five- or top-ten lists as well. They are now no longer run by doctors.

A living example of a famous winery that is run and owned by a practicing doctor is Catena of Argentina. Catena is often credited for putting Argentinian wine on the world map. The 4th generation owner and managing director of the winery, Laura Catena Zapata is actually a graduate of Stanford Medical School and still practices medicine.

Perhaps there is more to life than being a doctor, after all.



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