Doc­tor seeks so­cial cures as a state del­e­gate

Bal­anc­ing two pro­fes­sions with one thing in com­mon: a pas­sion to serve

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By DONG LESHUO in Wash­ing­ton leshuodong@chi­nadai­

In the Mary­land Leg­is­la­ture, there are 188 sen­a­tors and del­e­gates. But only four of them are doc­tors. Clarence Lam is one of the four. Lam is a board-cer­ti­fied physi­cian in pre­ven­tive medicine at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health in Bal­ti­more, the same univer­sity med­i­cal sys­tem where an­other doc­tor-turned-politi­cian — Ben Car­son — once ran the pe­di­atric neu­ro­surgery unit and is now a Repub­li­can can­di­date for pres­i­dent. Lam is the pro­gram di­rec­tor of the pre­ven­tive medicine res­i­dency pro­gram.

In Novem­ber 2014, he was elected a state del­e­gate to rep­re­sent Dis­trict 12, which in­cludes Howard and Bal­ti­more coun­ties.

Run­ning for pub­lic of­fice was not some­thing that came nat­u­rally to Lam, who is 34.

“I think that’s maybe the up­bring­ing in our cul­ture,” he said. “As Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, we are usu­ally pretty hum­ble; we don’t want al­ways speak up or draw at­ten­tion to our­selves, or we feel like it’s not nec­es­sary to al­ways take credit, we are part of a larger com­mu­nity,” Lam said.

“When you run for of­fice, you have to do the op­po­site of that, it’s all about get­ting your name out there, try­ing to do things that will gen­er­ate at­ten­tion so that peo­ple will vote for you,” he said. “That’s not some­thing cul­tur­ally that you usu­ally do,” Lam said.

Lam said he “knocked on 20,000 doors” in the dis­trict to talk to peo­ple.

“You have to un­der­stand the sub­stance of what you have been do­ing, but you also have to un­der­stand the pol­i­tics, which is com­pletely a dif­fer­ent an­i­mal. Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties; to know who are your al­lies, know folks who might not be friendly to you,” Lam said.

“I’m still learn­ing. For­tu­nately, I’ve got a lot of good men­tors, and over­came some of the chal­lenges and bar­ri­ers,” he said.

In his mis­sion state­ment on his web­site, Lam says: “As a physi­cian, I rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of be­ing a good lis­tener.”

He said that al­though it is chal­leng­ing to bal­ance two im­por­tant po­si­tions, hav­ing a full-time pro­fes­sion “keeps you grounded. You un­der­stand the strug­gles that reg­u­lar peo­ple go through.”

“The ben­e­fit of hav­ing peo­ple with di­verse back­grounds (in the leg­isla­tive body) is that ev­ery­one can bring some­thing to the ta­ble,” Lam said.

“There are very few Asian Amer­i­cans in the Leg­is­la­ture, so that’s a chal­lenge for us to try to ex­plain to folks cul­tur­ally why our com­mu­nity val­ues ed­u­ca­tion or why our com­mu­nity pri­or­i­tizes this or that,” he said.

Lam said that ev­ery­one has been brought up dif­fer­ently, and peo­ple don’t nec­es­sar­ily share sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ences. So some­times it’s hard for them to un­der­stand Asians’ phi­los­o­phy.

“We are there to share our ex­pe­ri­ences with our col­leagues there,” Lam said. “Some­times when peo­ple come up to us for bills, or need ideas or they need help with some­thing, it is also help­ful to have a fa­mil­iar face.”

Even for peo­ple who are not from his dis­trict, they of­ten seek out Lam.

“Be­cause they feel more com­fort­able than some­one else,” Lam said.

Lam, who grew up in Al­len­town, Penn­syl­va­nia, said that as a boy, he al­ways wanted to fit in with the broader com­mu­nity but felt like he never did.

“You look at the things from dif­fer­ent lenses; you re­al­ize your par­ents were strug­gling to make sure that you have good ed­u­ca­tion,” he said.

Lam re­called in­stances when peo­ple treated his par­ents dif­fer­ently be­cause they looked or talked dif­fer­ently.

“But on the other hand, you also re­al­ized that there are many more op­por­tu­ni­ties here in the US than many folks around the world (have),” he said. “So you re­ally do de­velop a sense of pride.”

“It was kind of from that sense that I wanted to give back to the com­mu­nity. From the per­sonal per­spec­tive, it’s that your par­ents had all th­ese chances and op­por­tu­ni­ties to re­ally suc­ceed, ac­com­plish a lot of dif­fer­ent things and raise a fam­ily well,” Lam said.

“It comes from be­ing here in this coun­try and want­ing to give back to the next gen­er­a­tion, for new im­mi­grants to come here, and also to help peo­ple here in the com­mu­nity, be­cause I felt so much has been given to my fam­ily, too,” Lam said.

One is­sue that Lam is work­ing on is im­prov­ing health ser­vices for the Asian- Amer­i­can com­mu­nity.

Lam said that when

the Depart­ment of Health col­lects data on rates of hep­ati­tis, an ill­ness com­mon in the Asian-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity, it of­ten in­cludes the cat­e­gories of Cau­casian, African Amer­i­can and His­panic but some­times Asian Amer­i­cans are in the “other” cat­e­gory.

“It is very hard for us to fig­ure out how to ad­dress the prob­lems, if we have high rates of hep­ati­tis, you might not be able to see that be­cause we are buried within the ‘other’ cat­e­gory,” Lam said.

As a first step, Lam said the sur­veys should be ac­ces­si­ble sep­a­rately.

Lam is a Phi Beta Kappa grad­u­ate of Case Western Re­serve Univer­sity in Cleve­land, Ohio, where he earned a bach­e­lor of arts de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and bi­ol­ogy.

“When I went to col­lege, I tried to keep a big­ger per­spec­tive on things, so I dou­ble ma­jored in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and bi­ol­ogy, two very dif­fer­ent ar­eas,” Lam said.

He chose bi­ol­ogy be­cause it was closely aligned with his pre­vi­ous train­ing, while po­lit­i­cal sci­ence is more of a per­sonal in­ter­est.

Lam earned his med­i­cal de­gree from the Univer­sity of Mary­land and his master’s of pub­lic health from Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity, where he also com­pleted his res­i­dency train­ing and served as chief res­i­dent. Lam is also board-cer­ti­fied in pre­ven­tive medicine.

“I came here be­cause I knew a lot of health-pol­icy work was done around the DC area. Be­cause of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, a lot of the pub­lic health has been done around here, so it’s good place to come for train­ing,” he said.

While in med­i­cal school, Lam was elected the stu­dent body pres­i­dent of the Univer­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more, and he in­terned on the health af­fairs staff of the Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form of the US House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. While there, he as­sisted over­sight in­ves­ti­ga­tions on drug-safety pol­icy.

Lam also served as a biode­fense an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for Biose­cu­rity at the Univer­sity of Pitts­burgh Med­i­cal Cen­ter and wrote re­ports on pub­lic health pre­pared­ness.

“I just hap­pen to have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence … that kind of guides me to­wards health pol­icy and pub­lic health, which is kind of the blend­ing of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and the bi­ol­ogy and the medicine to­gether,” Lam said.


Dr Clarence Lam, a Mary­land state del­e­gate rep­re­sent­ing Dis­trict 12, sits in his of­fice at the Johns Hop­kins Bloomberg School of Pub­lic Health in Bal­ti­more. Lam serves on the fac­ulty and as the pro­gram di­rec­tor of the pre­ven­tive medicine res­i­dency pro­gram at the School of Pub­lic Health.

Dr Clarence Lam

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