Locumunity Stories: Dr. Satnam Gandham – From Young Immigrant to Beloved Physician
Today we’re featuring the story of a truly inspiring member of Locumunity – one that embodies how hard work and passion can really achieve anything.
Dr. Satnam Gandham is BC primary care physician who has been in practice for almost 35 years.
After immigrating to Canada from India at age 16 (while being far from fluent in English), Dr. Gandham dropped out of secondary school and worked odd jobs in sawmills, lumberyards, and construction to get by.
Today, he and his wife run their own full-time, full-service medical practice seeing thousands of patients.
A high-spirited and lively man, Dr. Gandham instantly engages you in conversation. His passion for practicing medicine and looking after his patients comes through authentically. “It doesn’t feel like work to me. I feel great because I love what I do.”
We sat down with Dr. Gandham to learn more about his one-of-a-kind path to medicine and inspiring life story.
Q: When did you know that you wanted to become a doctor?
A: “I didn’t have a typical route into medicine. I actually dropped out of secondary school because it was difficult for me to communicate what I wanted to with the language barrier (my English was poor). I ended up working odd jobs in Abbotsford to save up money with my plan being to move back to India eventually. So I drove trucks, picked berries, worked in lumberyards, sawmills, and construction sites for almost two years.
Around that time, we found out my oldest brother was ill. That’s what really started my interest in medicine, and when I decided I wanted to be a doctor and stay here in Canada. Nobody in my family had ever been in the medical field before.”
Q: So how did you go about becoming a doctor after working manual labor jobs?
A: “Well, of course it meant that I had to go back to school. They actually wouldn’t let me back into secondary school because I didn’t have any past credentials or any records in the school system. It was just a mess – they asked to speak with my parents, but of course my parents couldn’t speak English to communicate with them. Eventually things got sorted and the principal allowed me to attend under the premise that I took additional English classes.
From there, I studied honours biochemistry at UBC, went to UBC Med, and did rotating internships in Ottawa, all in small towns and communities in the northwest. Eventually I came back to BC and worked in government jobs in Tofino and different Native reserves. I still remember when the water plane would pick me up.”
Q: And what’s your practice like nowadays?
A: “In 1985, my wife and I opened a full-time, full-service medical clinic. We have lots of patients who have been with us over 30 years, and I still do house calls for those who can’t come in. I never turn any of my patients away – they’ve been coming to me for so many years.
We opened a secondary clinic in Surrey, and I go there about 3 days a week. I’m fortunate because I have 2 brothers under supervision who have joined me there. But for our Richmond clinic, we don’t have enough coverage. I’d like to hire a permanent associate or permanent locum to help me there.
My middle daughter is also getting married next year. I’m hoping to find a full-time locum to cover the Richmond clinic from middle of February to beginning of March so I can take some time off for her.”
Q: Is it hard to find coverage? When was the last time you got to take some time off?
A: “I think the last vacation I had was around 25 years ago… I had taken 2 and a half weeks off.”