You can only learn to do better if you learn from your mistakes.

Dr. Eugene Leung

Head, Division of Nuclear Medicine

Dr. Eugene Leung loves what he does and is enthusiastically committed to the rapidly evolving field of functional imaging and ’Theranostics’ — today’s buzz word to describe targeted imaging and therapy that captures real-time physiologic process from the inside out. His loyalty to this somewhat misunderstood ’black-box’ specialty is evident by his drive to educate the masses on the dynamics of Nuclear Medicine, and in doing so, protect it from being absorbed by other disciplines.

I CHOSE MY SUBSPECIALTY because it exemplifies the “art” and grayscale of medicine.

I KNOW IT SOUNDS CORNY, but Bugles are one of my favourite snacks. They’re salty and I’m a salt monster. I was also trying to make a joke: ’corny’ because Bugles are made of corn. People have told me I have very opaque humour.

THERE’S NO GOOD WAY to compensate for a missing sense. I don’t know which one I’d be able to live without. I’ve actually asked myself that more than a few times. My livelihood is built on seeing things so I’d probably pick hearing… I guess… but at the same time I had a brief fling with being a musician so that’s a hard one to answer. You really do need all your senses to fully appreciate life.

NUCLEAR MEDICINE is a discipline that’s not so well known. And when things are not quite as well understood opinions get developed and perceptions are formed that may or may not be correct. I have to deal with that on an everyday basis.

BEING NAMED HEAD of Nuclear Medicine came earlier than I thought but it gives me the tools to push the division forward.

IN SOME PLACES in the world, in the United States for instance, Nuclear Medicine is being absorbed rapidly into other disciplines. Canada is a lot like Europe — the specialty is still very protected. I want to a) maintain that and b) build upon it. My loyalty to the discipline is what drives me.

MY PRINCIPLE FAULT is procrastination and epic loose ends.

MY GREATEST REGRET is not delivering the yellow rose to my wife before meeting her. It’s a segue into a story of how I met her. I’ve been very quiet and passive my entire life, so a university crush on someone you don’t know is basically just looking at someone across the room. At some point, I decided to get a flower to give to her on Valentine’s Day, but thought it was kind of corny and I never did it — the flower just sat there and wilted in the fridge. Finally, I decided to go and say hi and introduce myself and eventually told her about the flower. She said, “you should have just given it to me back then! ”

THERE’S NO SUCH THING as luck. Luck is something that results from karma. According to Buddhist teaching — by the way I’m a Buddhist — nothing happens by chance.

ONE RULE OF PARENTING: it will be a thankless job. Diem and I don’t have children, that’s a very conscious decision we made. My sister moved into town last year and I was very happy to have my nieces closer so we are no stranger to seeing children being raised. We understand that they will never have an appreciation for their parents until basically they move out. It’s an observation I’ve made and experienced because I don’t think I ever thanked my own parents.

WHEN I WAKE UP in the morning I hit the snooze button.

MY STRESS-REDUCING TRICK is listening to frisson-inducing music (pronounced free-zon). Certain classical pieces that I grew up learning and playing give me goosebumps like The Planets by Gustav Holst. He was a great composer and made a series of works that are named after the planets and Greek astrology. They were the prototypes for a lot of the movie music and things we hear in the theatres. That grand swelling soundtrack music, that’s the kind of stuff I like.

I LIKE RED ANYTHING. My hair is always red and some other colour. I started dying it just shortly after I got married. You hear of shy people doing these things to express themselves… and that may have applied to me. Everything I do in life, whether it’s the expression of how I look or the stuff that I buy, I always try and find that something extra to be special or distinctive.

ONE OF MY PET PEEVES in life are people who just follow along with the crowd because it’s the popular thing to do. I always make a point of going with the alternative if it makes sense for me. That’s why I use a Blackberry. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re Canadian… and have keyboards. I can’t type without a keyboard.

WHAT I DISLIKE most about my appearance is the cowlick in between haircuts.

I TOOK ON QUALITY ROLES for a lot of reasons. In medicine, it’s not just about knowing your stuff and planning best practices but you also need some way to circle back to see if what you’re doing is effective and to have checks and balances to learn from the process and fix it if necessary. That process is what interests me because I’m the type of person who always wants to improve.

BEST MOVIE LINE of all time: “The greatest teacher, failure is” because a) it’s from Star Wars and I love Star Wars, and b) the quote is from YODA, the most awesome Jedi Master ever. I guess it circles back to the whole quality thing. You can only learn to do better if you learn from your mistakes. It’s just another way of saying that in a very Yoda way.

I USED TO PLAY PIANO when i was younger and a lot of that skill is just rote repetition. There’s a lot that you can learn from repetition but what really brings you one step up in ability is as each process repeats, you actually learn from what went wrong in the previous iteration.

THE BEST WAY to get things moving is gravity.

I THINK you do your best when you see the lightbulb ’ah-ha’ moment on a learner’s face. I like to teach and for me teaching has always been a given. As part of an academic institution it’s an expectation that you’re supposed to do it but you need to do it willingly. If you’re just doing it because you’re told, you’re not going to succeed or get your point across. I actually want to make sure that any trainees that come through our program get the full experience they should.

LAST SATURDAY, I was recovering from a full driving racetrack day. Some people like to get their speed fix at a ski hill. I like to take my car to the Calabogie track. It’s a full-on workout unless you’re just putzing around. To learn from every iteration of going around the course, and to do it as smoothly as possible, you have to pay full mental attention. The G-forces that are involved in trying to hold the car where it needs to go are quite a lot and after an entire day you’ve gotten a full workout.

MY FIRST SPORTS CAR was a Mazda RX8. It was a very different car, a misunderstood car that people have very different opinions of…are you seeing a pattern? It’s not powered by a normal engine; it’s built with a Wankel rotary engine. The only moving part is a triangular disc that spins around. I loved that car, it was a very different experience. It’s a light nimble sports car but not very powerful. At the track, all the Porches would blow by me in the straightaways.

WHEN THAT POOR CAR had to go — I say that because I’m very loyal to things that I like —I got the dream car I’ve always wanted. It’s an Acura NSX. Its ethos is that you can drive it to work or go to get groceries but still be capable of the performance of other supercars like Ferraris which can be difficult to maintain. Diem and I are very cognizant of the fact that it was the only one in Ottawa… so we cannot drive like bad citizens.

 

WHEN I REALLY WANT SOMETHING, I obsess and research endlessly. I build water cooled computers for fun. There’s an art to putting a computer together: a lot of customization, planning the cooling loop and seeing how it looks. So, choosing all the right parts and making sure they work well sounds kind of superficial but that takes a lot of time and research.

I’D EAT MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH pork belly all the time if it wasn’t for my health. I don’t understand how people stick to bland diets and refuse to try new foods.

MY FAVOURITE activity outside of the hospital is playing video games; the immersive first-person story-driven type. They still involve shooting things but you also spend a lot of time building the characters and getting to know the environment. Mass Effect is one of these big science fiction soap opera epic types that I like. My wife doesn’t play these types of games but she really enjoys sitting there watching the story. Each of the characters that I’ve built and become fond of, she knows them all by name too.

ONE PRESENT I will always be happy to receive is LEGO. I still have all the LEGO that I’ve ever been given — giant bins of it. As a kid, I was always proud of the stuff that I built because of all the time planning and putting it together. I wouldn’t stop the iterations until I was happy with the final product.

I GREW UP in the bedroom community of New Market. My mother was a cartographer; my father was a high school geography teacher. My Dad was actually the only one out of eight generations who was not a doctor. He decided in his own way to do his own thing and I appreciated that about him. If he had also been a physician I’m not sure I would have sought it out as much.

MY PARENTS are very big on tradition and respecting culture, which I don’t have a problem with. But, a big part of that has an element of doing what you’re told and going with the grain. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized that that type of thinking bothers me. While I was raised that way, I would not choose to label myself as a conformist now. It irks me — that type of thinking.

MY MOM TAUGHT ME to recite the multiplication table in Chinese.

MY GREATEST professional achievement is gaining the respect of my peers.

MUSICAL IMPROVISATION is the talent I’d most like to have that I currently don’t possess; I’ve always admired the creativity and spontaneity of expression that was the next step beyond technical competence I could never achieve.

BABY DUCKLINGS always make me laugh.

IF I HAD TO write my autobiography using only 6 words it would be: “Never pet burning animals in fall”. You know how at the end of every school year everyone goes around signing each other’s year books? Well, someone wrote that in mine. It was just the most random, stupid sentence that to this day I still have no idea what it means, but I keep thinking about it. There’s always a thread that connects everything but when there isn’t a thread – like this — then I wonder… okay, was there never meant to be a thread or is it that I just haven’t looked hard enough?

I’M PARTICULARLY PROUD of our M&M rounds. We didn’t have them at one point. So I’m very happy that when these rounds occur that not only do all the staff physicians come but also the trainees and administrative staff, technologists and managers. And they all contribute, they’re all part of the conversation. That part I’m proud of because that’s the kind of division I want – to ensure everyone feels that they have a say. 

I HOPE MY LEGACY will be that I was instrumental in turning Nuclear Medicine back into its own.