Living her dream

By Jennifer Parraga, BA'93

What’s your dream job?

That was the assignment topic, and for a then fourteen-year-old Jennifer Lam, MD’11, the response was an easy one – a doctor, of course.

Dr. Lam had lost her father to colon cancer seven years earlier and from that moment forward she was determined to pursue a degree in medicine in order to find a way to help people.

As she interviewed a radiologist and presented her assignment in class, Dr. Lam’s time and attention were divided between her schoolwork and playing badminton at a national level.

She got started in the sport at a young age, as she followed her brother to his games, and was encouraged by his coach to pick up a racket and join in. At first, it was just about learning and enjoying a sport, but as her skill increased she became involved in city, provincial and then national level tournaments.

As a member of the badminton team for the Canada Winter Games, Dr. Lam, then a high school student, had the good fortune to develop strong friendships with her teammates, several of whom were Western students. Their positive experiences as members of the collegiate badminton team and in their programs at the University weren’t lost on Dr. Lam, and she was motivated to accept her admission to University for her undergraduate studies to pursue her Bachelor of Medical Sciences degree.

Looking back, Dr. Lam says that being a member of the team gave her a home and sense of belonging.

“When I first went to Western, I felt a little alone and a little lost,” she said. “Having the team there and already knowing a number of the members was really helpful, and they made a difference to her during the transition. Looking back at the years I was associated with the team, were some of the best years of my life.”

Dr. Lam played with the team for her entire eight years at Western and excelled as a national level athlete becoming known as a phenom on the court. She was named OUA rookie of the year, she was a five-time OUA player of the year with four team titles; named female MVP for four consecutive years, the recipient of Western's FWP Jones Memorial Trophy for making the greatest contribution to intercollegiate athletics within the University, and was named Western's recipient of the OUA Woman of Influence Award.

As a senior team member, Dr. Lam served as captain for six years and with her peers became player-coaches. In addition to training and playing, they were also coaching, designing drills, drafting practice schedules, figuring out the rosters, budgeting and taking on the responsibility to create a cohesive and successful team.

All the skills she was developing on the court and as a coach would become invaluable throughout her medical school studies.

“At the collegiate level, badminton is a team sport, and while you are helping others hone their skills and competing together, you are also developing your teamwork and leadership skills, which has helped through medical school and now as a paediatric general surgeon,” Dr. Lam said.

As Dr. Lam transitioned from her undergraduate studies to medical school, she was hesitant about whether or not she could continue playing badminton at the same level.

“I remember chatting with my mother and she reminded me about putting academics first,” she said. “But I didn’t want to lose what badminton brought to my life – how it grounded me, kept me comfortable and was a huge stress reliever. And I ended up being involved even more.”

Photo of Dr. Jennifer Lam, MD’11As Dr. Lam entered medical school, she found her second family on campus – the Medicine Class of 2011. The close-knit cohort developed a strong identity and thrived at the School creating a number of traditions that continue today. Upon graduation, they even established the “Don’t Stop Believing Fund” so future medicine classes could invest in activities, which help to create a class identity.

“I might be biased, but I really think we had one of the best classes ever,” Dr. Lam said with a laugh. “There were so many great people in our class and I really appreciate the chance to have known them.”

Following medical school, Dr. Lam headed to Calgary to pursue her residency in general surgery and paediatric surgery. She did return to Western in 2018, however, when she was inducted into the Western Mustangs Alumni Hall of Fame.

As honoured as Dr. Lam felt to receive the recognition, she was equally proud to have badminton profiled and in the spotlight.

“I was completely surprised,” she said. “It’s a big step for badminton in general. We aren’t the most talked about or funded sport, so it was great to see it in the spotlight.”

Despite not having as much time to play badminton during her residency and fellowship, Dr. Lam still loves the sport and hopes that she will now have time to dedicate to it. In the meantime, she’s focused more on running and taking the occasional trip to maintain balance in her life.