Overcoming challenges

Wellbeing advice from Dr David Lam, South Australia.

Look after yourself first and foremost!

I was no good to anyone on the days I was too tired and angry to make good decisions. Get your own GP. In South Australia, Doctors Health SA provides after hours and weekend services to doctors and medical students.

If you don’t have a regular doctor yet, get in contact with them or the equivalent organisation in your state. It made all the difference for me. Sometimes I was just too unwell – physically or emotionally – to work, and I needed someone objective to help me get better.

Get your own psychologist too

Plenty of doctors with or without mental health conditions seek help from psychologists when in crisis. It took me a couple of tries with different clinicians before I found someone I gelled with, but it made all the difference. Tell your friends, your partner, or your parents what is going on with you – the good and the bad.

Looking back, I was at my worst when I felt alone, and at my best when I shared with others and rationalised the struggles I faced.

Know when to say “no”

As doctors, we are good at prioritising a lot of tasks. But sometimes there is just too much to do, no matter how skilled you are at prioritising.

In my case, I had to be strict and tell myself “no flying to Adelaide to DJ” in the three months before the fellowship exams.

Take your time with your career

There is no shame in this. I was burnt out immediately after medical school and took six months off before starting a hospital internship. During this time I continued to teach and play guitar, which was exactly what I needed at that time.

David with boxing coach Pete Williams. Sport has helped David to feel at home in Port Lincoln.


It sounds obvious, but physical activity is good for both the body and the soul. There were days when I was exhausted but just thirty minutes of exercise and social interaction at the boxing club would revitalise me physically and emotionally.

Take overseas holidays

Heed that old doctor saying: “if you are going to p*#$ off, then really just p*#$ off so that people can’t contact you!”


As much as possible, explain everything that you are thinking and doing to allied health staff, nurses, patients and their families. This is crucial to good general practice.

Don’t let go of the other aspects of your life

Embrace the overlap in skills – it may just be that those skills you have in areas like sport, art, music or parenting are the same skills that make you a uniquely good GP.

Dr David Lam, South Australia. You can also find out more about Dr David Lam music at lambrosmusic.com.