This month we interviewed Dr. James Wang, who is a fellow in Adolescent Medicine. We chatted with Dr. Wang about his residency experience and plans, as well as becoming a published poet. In 2018, we also had the chance to interview Dr. Wang on his experience on the RDBC Board of Directors. If you’re also interested in that, be sure to check it out.
You are a subspecialty resident in Adolescent Medicine, which is a very small field. What led you down the path of Adolescent Medicine? How is it working with adolescents and do you have any advice for residents who may end up working with these groups?
I knew a little bit about Adolescent Medicine in medical school, but it wasn’t until halfway through my Pediatrics residency that I decided to pursue formal training in the field. I had always been interested in advocating for marginalized pediatric patients in a world that so frequently will neglect or discriminate against them. When I rotated with the folks in Adolescent Medicine at BC Children’s Hospital, I felt like I had found my home, my professional family, my people. Although I still enjoyed taking care of younger children, I was so impressed by the resilience of adolescents, as they are navigating high school, relationships, families, and sometimes chronic mental health or physical health conditions. It is a challenging stage of life, as I’m sure you must remember! But it is so exciting too because these young people are incredibly inspiring. They are our future leaders in government and science and art. They carry the dreams and ideals of society, for a peaceful world, a clean and sustainable environment, wildly creative inventions to make life better for everyone, and so on. And if you approach them with genuine curiosity at what they can do, they will blow your socks off! So if I had to offer just one piece of advice for any resident working with adolescents, it would be to change the narrative of teens as moody or irritable or unfathomable or even scary, and instead to think of them as possessing endless potential for humankind.
You are planning to become the first Canadian-trained specialist in Pediatric Addiction Medicine. What drew you to this field? What has the experience been like, and what do you plan to do once becoming a specialist?
When they told me in medical school that medicine is about lifelong learning, they weren’t kidding! I’m very much looking forward to my upcoming fellowship in Addiction Medicine with the BC Centre for Substance Use. Unfortunately, there is no specific training program for working with youth living with addiction, so I will be heading to adult medicine for a year to glean all that I can before bringing it back to Pediatrics. BC is the perfect place to do this training, which is sadly because we are the epicentre of the opioid epidemic in North America. The COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated this serious problem. Over the past 2 years, I have seen patients as young as 12 years old being brought to the hospital during an overdose. If you ask adult addictions specialists – who are great and fantastic at what they do – to care for 12-year-olds or even 16-year-olds with serious substance use, they would understandably have discomfort. This is a major gap in health care. If we can change the trajectory of these young lives, we would not only be saving money and resources for the health care system and the government, but we would also be saving families so much heartbreak, and we would also be tapping into the endless potential of these youth. Prevention and early treatment are so important for this. We cannot keep pretending that children are not exposed to substances, because they are – through their peers, social media, and family members.
During residency, you decided to seriously pursue your creative interest in writing. In the process, you took a class with two poet-laureates of Vancouver. Can you share with us your experience pursuing writing seriously during your residency?
I took a weekend poetry course with poet-laureates Fiona Lam and Evelyn Lau and it was one of the most life-changing experiences I have had. It was with their encouragement – and the encouragement of classmates and my partner, who is also a physician-poet – that I was able to become a more dedicated writer. Before that class, I had written some small pieces on and off, sometimes not writing creatively for years. I never thought of myself as a writer, but now when I look back, there were signs of it even when I was in high school. My English teacher had sent me to a playwriting workshop at the Arts Club Theatre and I had such a blast there. Clearly, she knew something that I did not! So when I sat down in Fiona and Evelyn’s class, it was like all of those unfinished thoughts and stories and emotions became reanimated again. Writing is not that antithetical to medicine, as some may think. In medicine, we submerge ourselves in the stories of our patients, their bodies, their minds, their lives, their families, their joys, their pains. I believe this is what turns a great doctor into a remarkable one – this ability to walk in the shoes of those we are so privileged to care for.
Now, you are a published poet who has gone on to be interviewed by CBC radio. Congratulations! What were some of the challenges and highlights of becoming a published poet and what was the overall process like?
It has been a real whirlwind of a year! When I started writing again, I thought it would be great just to have several people enjoy my pieces and maybe read a poem at a café or library. I never thought I would be on the radio for sure! Recently this spring, our small group of five poets, nicknamed “Harbour Centre 5” after the building where we met, published our own mini-collection of poetry titled “Brine”. We now have a website (https://harbourcentre5.wixsite.com/poetry) and our book can be found in half a dozen independent bookstores around Vancouver. I think the hardest part of the journey was keeping up the pace of writing and editing every month – for three years! Having a group was very helpful for this, as we would set deadlines for one another. We would also offer each other positive and useful feedback and share tips for submitting pieces to literary magazines or contests. I continue to be amazed at the quality of poems that my fellow poets bring to our meetings – they really are a talented bunch! Although residency didn’t make it any easier to carve out time for writing, I truly love both of my worlds and it was not a chore to work on either of them – well, for the most part! I confess I did take a few months off from writing in the lead-up to my Pediatrics Royal College examination.
What are your plans for the future in regards to poetry and writing?
I’m not sure! All I know for now is that I plan to keep on writing. Maybe one day I will find a way to combine my two worlds of medicine and writing, perhaps through narrative medicine. There is so much that each can learn from the other.