Questions & Answers

Why did you pursue a career in medicine?

I didn’t really know what it would be like to be a doctor but I was very interested in people, health and the human body and I found medicine fascinating. When I first entered general practice I was quite apprehensive, worrying that every second person would walk in and have a cardiac arrest or something equally dire. The reality was of course quite different. I found I really enjoyed getting to know my patients, trying to help them and being a small part of their lives. I learnt a lot from the doctors I worked with and I learnt an enormous amount from my patients. Many patients were such a pleasure to know, when they would come to see me it was like having a visit from a dear old friend and catching up with their news.

Having the opportunity to speak on television and radio and write in the media about health has been really interesting and fun too. As a doctor in clinical practice you are often basically educating and informing people about various aspects of health and well-being and as a doctor in the media you are doing the same thing except to a larger group of people at any one time.

I think it is a privilege to practise medicine in any shape or form because health – be it physical, psychological, social, occupational or otherwise – is so vitally important. It is of great benefit to stay informed and look after one’s own health and it is rewarding to try to inform others and encourage them to take care of themselves too.

Tell us about what it was like growing up as a Chinese girl in Australia. Did you experience any problems?

Well, I was the only Chinese girl in the whole school for the first six years of my schooling and there were racist sentiments. I felt very discriminated against, like a second class citizen. However I must say I just got used to it really and accepted it. It didn’t really stop me from enjoying my school work and enjoying school generally. I made a few friends and after a while people stopped overtly teasing me for being Chinese. I guess they got used to it too, me being Chinese that is. I got used to being different and I got used to the fact that being Chinese was in some circumstances something of a social handicap! I daresay it probably still is in some cases but for the most part there is much less overt or even covert racism and being Chinese is probably no longer such a major social handicap! There are still certain stereotypes I daresay but by and large, people are much more accepting and even embracing of Chinese culture and difference generally. These days there are a lot more Chinese around so I don’t feel quite as foreign or unusual.

How did you come to focus on women’s health issues?

I have always been interested in women’s health issues, perhaps in part because I am a woman! Spending so much time talking to women – my friends, colleagues and patients – has only served to increase and enrich that interest. Women’s health incorporates so many different aspects of health: fertility, reproduction, sexual health and sexual issues, body image, self esteem, mental health, relationships, preventive health, nutrition, diet and exercise, work-life balance, parenting, you name it! It is a rich, endlessly challenging and fascinating brew.

I am interested in men’s health too, of course!

You are seen regularly on television and in the media commenting on medical issues, how did you get your first break in the media?

I did modelling while I was at Uni and then did some ads and lots of acting, dancing and singing – TV, short films, plays, corporate videos, I had a lead role in an ABC/BBC miniseries (‘Children of the Dragon’) and I was Principal dancer in a production of ‘The King and I’ which toured Australia for ten months with Hayley Mills playing Mrs Anna. Then I was approached to be the Medical Presenter for a Channel Ten television show called ‘Sex/Life’. I did a few series of this which was really great fun before I was asked by the people at Working Dog to be on their show, also on Channel Ten, called ‘The Panel’ which was a humorous, popular and very cool show which basically featured five people sitting around a desk chatting and having various interesting celebrity guests on to chat. I was on ‘The Panel’ about six or seven times and apart from being really great fun, it really changed my life career-wise. I was subsequently asked to do many different television shows – from ‘Beauty and the Beast’ to the Channel Nine ‘Super Debates’ – as well as being asked to write for many different publications including regular columns for ‘The Sun Herald’, ‘Good Medicine magazine’, ‘New Idea magazine’, ‘Girlfriend magazine’ and even at one stage ‘Big Brother magazine’ (to go with the television show on which I sometimes appeared to comment on the relationships between the Big Brother housemates).

My columns in ‘The Sun Herald’ which were loosely titled ‘Love and Life’ were noticed by publishers at HarperCollins who thought they were very funny and edgy. They commissioned me to write my first book ‘Pandora’s Box – lifting the lid on life’s little nasties’. That was a great, wonderful, exhilarating experience and having my first book published was a little like giving birth to a first child! Very exciting and quite amazing and I felt very proud. It was really a very enriching experience of which I retain very warm memories. I think I never really expected to write a book so it was a fun, surprise adventure.

You’ve written a number of books and write regular columns in newspapers such as “Body & Soul”, do you have any tips on how to write a great story?

Well I think I tend to write as I think or as I speak; there is not much difference really. It is important to have some idea what you are trying to convey and to express it in a reasonably clear manner. Unless you are thoroughly au fait with the subject matter already, research thoroughly so you feel pretty comfortable that you have a handle on it and are well and truly across the main issues. Style-wise, it does depend a little on the nature of the publication and the audience you are expecting to read it, but by and large, you will develop your own voice, which in my case is simply the same voice that comes out of my mouth or my head. I wouldn’t say I had a whole lot of different writing personas but I suppose depending on whether the subject matter is light and frivolous or serious and sobering, I would tend to use a different tone of course. I think it is good if you have a point of view and can make observations that are unique or novel in some way. Keeping it reasonably simple and clear, saying what you think and presenting a balanced view are probably key. If the subject matter lends itself to humour and you feel relaxed and want to have some fun with it, I think that is generally a good thing, so go for it.

You’ve been involved in a number of charities over the years. Can you give us some information on the charities that you support?

I have recently been made an Ambassador for Plan International Australia and am a founding coalition member for the ‘Because I am a Girl Coalition for Investment in Girls’ which seeks to address gender inequality, oppose exploitation of young women and raise awareness of the plight of girls in developing countries and the need to break the inter-generational poverty cycle. I think this is a really wonderful cause and it is a great honour and a privilege to be involved.

I am also proud to be an Ambassador for Northcott Disability Services which provides support to disabled people, their families and carers across NSW and the ACT. They do such amazing work for so many people, providing a range of services which promote a genuinely inclusive society.

I have also been an Ambassador for the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Breast Cancer Network Australia, Heartkids Australia and Bonnie Babes Foundation, and an Ambassador mentor for Make-A-Wish Foundation, all amazing and inspiring charities which do such valuable work.

What’s the next big thing that you have planned for the future. Can you give us a hint?

Well my next book, written with the clever and gorgeous Ms Vanessa Woods, is due to come out in 2011. I don’t know if that counts as a big thing but it will be a big thing for me to finally get that out. It is a book about child-raising based on about one hundred different studies and papers about child-raising issues from ante-natal to late adolescence. Co-sleeping, bullying, feeding, nutrition, socialising in the playground, academic achievement, computer games, you name it, if it’s a subject important to parents, kids, grandparents, teachers or anyone with an interest in kids, it’s in there. We’ve particularly aimed to cover topics that are contentious, topical or on which there is interesting recent research that could present new perspectives and new ways of thinking about age-old problems.