The doctor who dispenses photos as medicine

ABC South East SA

By Stuart Stansfield


March 30, 2017 15:31:00

This photo taken by Dr Yao Zhang shows a bird in flight over wetlands in South East South Australia. (Supplied: Dr Yao Zhang)
Naracoorte 5271
During his time with the RPA, health problems again struck and he was treated for bowel cancer.After two years, Dr Zhang returned to Adelaide to be with his family, worked at Flinders Medical Centre and Modbury Hospital, and was then accepted into the GP training program.And this is where he will stay for the time being, taking photographs of his new home and giving them to his patients, as medicine. He was one of only two overseas-trained doctors taken on by the RPA in 2010. Photo:
Dr Yao Zhang in his consulting room at Naracoorte, South East South Australia. Dr Zhang also learnt about Australia by listening to the ABC on an illegal shortwave radio he built at home.Relations with China in the 1980s meant he could not continue his medical studies in Australia, but he was accepted to study language in Adelaide for 20 weeks, and then travelled across the country.He worked in a factory and other jobs to repay a loan from an uncle and fund his travels.Dr Zhang had intended to return to China, but an aunt who owned properties across the globe told him Australia was the best place to set up a home.Barossa visit led to wine export opportunityA visit to the Barossa Valley opened Dr Zhang’s eyes to opportunities in the wine industry and he became a wine exporter, building a business that shipped 300,000 bottles a year to China.Major problems with diabetes in 2003 caused him to adjust his life, and three years later he decided to resume his medical studies to become a GP the same as his wife, who had been an ophthalmologist in China. (Supplied: Dr Yao Zhang)
The countryside and country lifestyle were key factors in Dr Zhang deciding to live at Naracoorte, but his life has not been easy or straightforward, which he said had made him a better doctor.”With rich life experience and deep understanding of people, you can touch the heart of the people,” he said.He finished in the top third of his class at medical university in Guangzhou and worked as a trainee doctor in a 2,600-bed hospital.He had dreamed about visiting Australia since watching a television program about the country as a child. Sitting in his consulting room, Doctor Yao Zhang looks over to a bookcase with photos displayed on the shelves and says with a laugh: “I use the photos as a medication”.The keen landscape and nature photographer has worked in hospitals in China and Australia, including the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) in Sydney, but now lives in Naracoorte in south-east South Australia where he is finishing his training as a GP registrar. Photo:
Kangaroos hop across grassland against a misty background. (Supplied: Kate Foster)
“The pathological side [of illnesses] is a lot easier to deal with, but the mental side is totally different,” Dr Zhang said.He gives his photos of landscapes to aged patients and those in palliative care who cannot get around.”I just tell them — think about the good things, keep a positive attitude,” he said.”I’m Chinese, and Chinese say if you don’t help yourself nobody can, not even God.”Dr Zhang recalled a patient who brought one of his photos of summertime on a farm to every appointment.”I asked why and she said ‘Now, I cannot go to the countryside [but] every time I look at that I feel happy’,” he said.”This type of photo really boosted her.”Life-long interest in photographyDr Zhang’s father gave him his first camera when he was 13 and taught him how to develop photos.”I just take photos of whatever I like; I just can’t stop,” he said, adding that he had shot thousands of photos in two and a half years spent working in the Casterton and Grampians region in Western Victoria and then at Naracoorte.An exhibition is on the cards once his final exams are out of the way. (Dr Yao Zhang)
He passed his clinical exam in 2008 but could not secure a hospital position in Adelaide.”I looked at New South Wales and the only hospital I knew in Sydney was the Royal Prince Alfred — from RPA the [television] program!” he said. Photo:
A grain harvester works in a paddock in summer in South East South Australia. “In 2005 I fully made up my mind, and then in 2007, that’s almost 20 something years after uni, I fully passed the exam — the recognition exam in Australia,” Dr Zhang said.