From the Spring 2020 Edition of Discovery
Cardiologist Uyen Lam BS’08 (Biology/Public Health) delivers cardiac rehabilitative and disease prevention services in greater Boston, while pursuing international medical missions to underserved populations
Courtesy Uyen Lam
Uyen Lam wants to make a difference. The cardiologist, who graduated from Utah State in 2008 with degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology and Public Health, is working toward that aim at divergent ends of the health care spectrum.
Lam’s work traverses cultures, resources and continents, but her focus remains the same: Discerning patients’ needs, providing them with care and empowering them to make healthy lifestyle choices.
“The old adage, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’ rings true,” says the 2012 graduate of the University of Utah’s School of Medicine. “I can employ cutting-edge medicine to keep you alive, but I can’t improve your quality of life without your partnership.”
Honors students Uyen Lam ‘08, left, and Sherry Baker ‘10, both College of Science Ambassadors, present their research at Undergraduate Research Day on Utah’s Capitol Hill in January 2008. Both alumnas completed medical school and are practicing physicians. (Baker is a graduate of the Medical College of Wisconsin.)
Photo courtesy Mary-Ann Muffoletto
Her stern assessment takes on increased urgency in the midst of a global pandemic.
“The complacency and lack of social responsibility we’re seeing in some areas of the United States is appalling,” Lam says. “Letting our guard down will have dire consequences.”
Becoming an Aggie
Born and raised in Cache Valley, Utah, Lam attended Logan City schools and graduated from Logan High School in 2004.
“From an early age, I knew I wanted to become a physician,” she says. “My favorite question was ‘Why?’ I loved peering into the microscope and entering the world of microbes, wondering how something so small could cause dramatic manifestations of disease in a perfectly healthy body.”
Lam’s parents encouraged her to pursue studies at Utah State, which offered her an academic scholarship, noting her college savings would go further at the local land grant university, and enable her family to save more for her future medical school education.
“I had dreams of traveling further for school, but they were right,” she says. “I had wonderful teaching, research and leadership development opportunities at Utah State, and my parents’ wise frugality made medical school possible without soul-crushing debt.”
Among the opportunities USU offered Lam was undergraduate research with Biology Professor Joseph K.-K. Li (1940-2015). With Li, Lam studied the Bluetongue virus, transmitted by midges, that causes disease in sheep, goats, cattle and wild ruminants.
“Bluetongue doesn’t infect humans, but we demonstrated the virus’s ability to selectively infect and kill human cancer cells without causing serious side effects,” Lam says.
Working with Li, she says, was a formative experience.
Photo courtesy Donna Berry
“He was an extraordinary scientist and an extraordinatory mentor,” Lam says. “Dr. Li meticulously taught us lab techniques, research design, the importance of reading the literature, how to collect and analyze data. But he also pushed us to present our research, how to publish and how to network.
He created amazing opportunities for us as undergraduates. I’m very glad a scholarship was established in his memory, to commemorate his dedication to undergraduate research.”
Beyond the lab, Lam served as a College of Science ambassadors and traveled to open houses throughout the state talking with high school students and encouraging them to come to Utah State.
“I could say, with sincerity, that USU offered outstanding opportunities for students, who wanted to make the most of their college years,” she says.
Becoming A Physician
After graduating with honors from Utah State in 2008, Lam entered the University of Utah School of Medicine. At the U, Lam continued to pursue research, including study of fluid resuscitation in pediatric burn patients, evaluation of acuity in deep vein thrombosis and investigation of whether or not calcium channel blocker medications, commonly used to treat hypertension, increase women’s risk of developing breast cancer.
During her medical school years, Lam pursued her first foray into international medical missions.
“I traveled as a medical volunteer to Vietnam in 2009 and with Project Vietnam Foundation,” she says.
Photo courtesy Uyen Lam
The California-based non-profit organization offers reconstructive surgery in Saigon to children with cleft lip and palates, and also offers medical, dental and vision care to patients in other areas of Vietnam.
“Initially, my interest in traveling to Vietnam was to learn more about my parents’ home country and my ancestors,” Lam says. “I’d never been to Vietnam.”
The visit was not only fulfilled the med student’s original aim, but also fueled her motivation to participate in further missions.
“It was a moving and valuable experience for me,” says Lam, who made another medical mission trip to Vietnam in 2014. “It opened my eyes to the tremendous needs in Vietnam and in other developing countries, starting with such basic needs as clean water and access to even minimal health care.”
During her med school years, Lam considered specialization in emergency medicine or oncology, but following graduation from medical school in 2012, she opted for a three-year residency in internal medicine with University of Utah Health.
“I discovered I preferred adult patients to pediatric ones,” she says. “And I realized I found the physiology of the heart fascinating.”
Upon completion of her residency, Lam chose to pursue a fellowship in clinical cardiology at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Boston.
“Moving to Boston has been exciting,” she says. “It’s such a vibrant and diverse city.”
In a February 2020 ceremony, Lam, center, accompanied by Joyce Kosowsky and colleagues, cuts the ribbon at the opening of the Bernard D. Kosowsky, MD Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Prevention Center at St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center, a Steward Family Hospital, in Brighton, Massachusetts. Lam is the center’s medical director.
Photo courtesy Uyen Lam
And cardiology has proven to be a passion for Lam. Upon completion of her fellowship in 2018, she joined Steward Health Care, within St. Elizabeth’s, as a non-invasive, preventive cardiologist. Steward and St. Elizabeth’s recently open the Bernard D. Kosowsky MD Cardiovascular Rehabilitation and Prevention Center, of which Lam serves medical director.
The center’s focus, she says, is providing rehabilitation for patients recovering from heart attacks or experiencing other cardiovascular disorders.
“This is an exciting opportunity and I’m delighted to pharmacists and other professionals providing patient care and training for health care personnel in varied parts of the southeast Asian country.
“We hit the ground running” she says. “During our two-week mission, our team saw almost 1,500 patients, including near 400 cardiology patients.”
Traveling between assignments, Lam and colleagues also provided aid to victims of a motor vehicle accident.
“My training in emergency medicine came in handy,” she says.
Medicine in the Midst of a Pandemic
These days, Lam, like all of us, is watching an unprecedented global pandemic unfold. In fact, her 2020 medical mission to Myanmar was canceled.
“Our sister hospitals are pushing capacity with COVID-19 patients. To date, we’ve only had a few COVID-19 patients in our facility, but we’ve noticed the shortness of breath and chest pain can mimic a heart attack,” she says. “We know the virus can cause a myocarditis.”
She stresses the need for everyone, across the United States, to stay home as much as possible.
“Some years ago, I attended a medical conference in the northern Italian city of Bergamo,” Lam says. “The current situation breaks my heart.”
Photo courtesy Donna Barry
The city, located in Italy’s alpine Lombardy region, which Lam described as “a peaceful town with multi-generational families living under one roof,” has been devastated. As of early April, Bergamo had more than 9,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,200 deaths.
“I urge Americans to take a hard look at Bergamo, New York City and their own communities,” Lam says. “A civilized society exists on the premise that each person has a duty to protect themselves and others. Our rates of infection are increasing and we need to heed the danger. It will take all of us behaving responsibly to weather this pandemic.”
Photo courtesy Uyen Lam
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