Dato’ Dr. Fam Tem Lom was born and raised in a small town in Sarawak called Kampung Beratok. His father is a smallholder planting pepper plants and rubber trees. Dato’ Dr. Fam is the 9thof 15 siblings and they live in a simple house with earthen floor where he shared a room with four of his siblings until he left for university.
In those days, he and his siblings wake up early to help tap rubber and tend to pepper plants and then helps out again after school and completing their homework.
Having graduated from UNIMAS in 2002, Dato’ Dr. Fam went on to serve as a Houseman and then as Medical Officer and Clinical Specialist at Sarawak General Hospital from 2002 until 2010. He obtained the MRCPI in 2007 and FRCPI and FRCP (Glasgow) in 2015. It was in 2010 that he got posted to Miri General Hospital where he stayed until today.
In 2016, Dato’ Dr. Fam was bestowed the DIMP by his Royal Highness SultanHaji Ahmad Shah Al-Musta’in Billah ibni Almarhum Sultan Abu Bakar Ri’ayatuddin Al-Mu’adzam Shahwhich carry the title Dato’. He is married to Datin Dr. Doreen Chan Chu Ching and has three children.
Can you tell us when and how you first got involved in clinical research?
I first got involved in Industry Sponsored Research in 2014 when the Clinical Research Centre (CRC) at Hospital Miri was in its nascent stage. It was a very difficult time for research, adding to the fact that I was very new to research and had doubts regarding my ability as a researcher.
Fortunately, under the mentorship of Datuk Prof. Dr Sim Kui Hian and support from the Hospital Director, Dr. Jack Wong Siew Yu, and the then Head of CRC, Dr. Doris Evelyn Jong Yah Hui, I began involved in clinical research. Clinical Research Malaysia (CRM) headed by Dr. Akhmal Yusof and its Study Coordinator, Jennifer Elia Anak Jon was also very instrumental in my journey in clinical research. The study went through without a hitch, much to my relief. From there I gained confidence in conducting subsequent studies.
How have clinical trials changed your practise and management of patient care?
I had my doubts of certain protocols and efficacy of treatments. I would say clinical trials is an extension of evidence-based medicine. Some of these doubts were dispelled and some were substantiated.
Of course I tweaked my treatment accordingly for the benefit of the patients. I like to qualify this statement by saying only when the completed trials have proven unequivocally that the treatment needed changing.
I find that I am now more discipline and accountable in documenting patients’ treatments. I also come to understand why certain protocols were necessary for certain treatments.
Overall, I felt I have become more efficient and more confident in my core clinical work.
What are the main challenges you encounter when conducting clinical trials and how do you overcome them?
I think the main challenge of any researcher is funding. If you do not have enough money, no matter how good and relevant your research is, it is not going to take off.
Looking for funding is an ongoing process. It helps that we have established our name and reputation as a credible research centre so people or agencies are willing to fund us.
I am grateful for our study coordinators Salina Lisang, Wan Ainor SyahdahBinti Wan Hassan, Sylvia anak Stephen Bejit and Tan Sia Hong for their efforts in this aspect.
Of course there is the time challenge so our trials will not be protracted and dragged on. We continuously monitor and have in place a well-planned research structure and strict protocols that we adhered to.
What is your motivation behind conducting clinical trials?
We dare to dream big. We are a small hospital, one of the many hospitals in the whole of Malaysia. We want to play our part to make Malaysia’s healthcare research standard and quality as one of the best in the region, and if possible, on par with Singapore.
Of course it is not going to be an immediate achievement. We have to achieve this in stages. For example, being best in the northern zone of Sarawak and then best in Sarawak, and moving up thereafter.
What one word best describe your career as a clinical researcher or investigator?
I am grateful to be given a chance to helm so many important research and to have an efficient team who are motivated and work very hard to achieve the target.
I am also grateful to my superiors who trusted in me and gave me the chance to take up important tasks even though there are many whom I felt were also qualified and more senior. Not forgetting Clinical Research Malaysia and the local Clinical Research Centre for their support in the conduct of clinical research.
I am also indebted to my wifeDatinDr. Doreen Chan Chu Ching who is always very supportive of my endeavours.
In the field of clinical research, where do you see Malaysia in the next ten years?
My dream is for Malaysia to be one of the best in the region. It is not going to be easy. We need to start our researchers young, nurture them and give them ample opportunities to grow. I believe that government public hospitals is the ideal place to do clinical trials. Having said that, it is also important to ensure that Study Coordinators are paid well and given incentives as they play a very vital part in supporting clinical research.
More research in herbs are needed to assess their effectiveness in the medical field as they may have the potential to be developed into novel therapies.
What changes do you like to see being made by the policy makers to create a more conducive ecosystem for the conduct of clinical trials in Malaysia?
I hope that the policy makers can make clinical research a top priority either above clinical services or to give it the same priority. That should translate into more funding every year.
It is equally important to have more incentives for the medical officers to do research. For example, setting up a career pathway for those interested or have an aptitude for research to become medical clinical researchers. Additionally, housemanship for those with medical degrees can be waived and they can be absorbed directly to become clinical researchers.
This may sound drastic but with the current scenario where there are so many medical graduates and our service are unable to absorb a significant number of them and not all of them may be interested in doing clinical work, this may be something that the policy makers may want to consider. Thus the need to have/provide an alternative career pathway for medical graduates.