Weekly Local Biography

 Associate Professor Tada Martin


Associate Professor Tada Martin is a man who has followed a long family tradition in clinical medicine and medical administration, but has also managed to make his own mark in the application of his career specialty for some of the smallest patients in the world.

His surname comes from his paternal grandfather, who came from the UK to SE Asia before WWII, working for the Borneo-Burma Company. Dr. Tada’s father was a doctor and his mother a nurse, a common background for medically inclined children.

He went to good schools, initially in Bangkok, and then to Montfort College in Chiang Mai when his father was transferred to the north to the Faculty of Medicine when Dr. Tada was 10 years old. He was a good student and from an early age he felt that he too was destined to become a doctor like his father. “I grew up within the Faculty of Medicine. It became my second instinct,” he said.

After secondary school, it was off to Chulalongkorn University for the six year slog as an undergraduate, followed by the one year internship. Following successful graduation, the young doctors were then required to serve in a government clinic, and Dr. Tada chose Mae Hong Son, where he worked as a GP for the next two years.

These two GP years were to have a profound effect on his life and its direction. “I could see that most diseases could be cured (by the GP), except for those in the eye. I saw people go blind from glaucoma, whose sight could have been saved if they could have been operated upon by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist).” He decided to return to training and to Chiang Mai, where he studied for his specialist qualifications as an ophthalmologist for the next three years.

With his heart being in the north, he then went to Lampang Hospital for the next two years, before returning to the Faculty of Medicine in Chiang Mai in 1987 when he was 35 years old. Here in Chiang Mai he had his clinical practice, but continued with post graduate training for himself, including a year spent in Tokyo, to be able to carry out more work in retinal diseases.

During this time in Chiang Mai he became interested and involved with premature babies, who can suffer from a peculiar type of blindness. Dr. Tada instituted a preventive program for these babies also involving screening of the infants between six to eight weeks of age. All babies under 1.5 kg are screened by an ophthalmologist. From there it was to form Visual Rehabilitation Clinics for children up to the age of three years, “We can maximise the potential that is left for them, if we start early enough,” said Dr. Tada. Continuing in this direction, he formed Early Visual Stimulations Clinics with assistance from the School of the Blind in Bangkok and the Perkins Institute in Massachusetts in the US. These are now in 17 provinces in the North. The GP who turned ophthalmologist to try to stop blindness had now brought about positive changes for future sight for the premature infants and small children in the North.

In his own professional life there were changes as well. He became head of the Department of Ophthalmology at Chiang Mai University, to be then promoted to associate dean of the faculty and after another couple of years selected to be a vice president, a position he has held for the past three years. At this level, he does very little clinical work, with administration being his daily grind. “My job at the moment is about planning and budgeting for the university. It is the twisted story of my life,” said Dr. Tada somewhat ruefully, I felt.

His four year term as vice president finishes next year and currently he is unsure of whether he should continue with administrative medicine or go back to clinical medicine, his first love. He can see some advantages for the medical society by remaining in administration, “You can influence the overall picture and help set the future direction for the young doctors.” However, he has obviously not worked this problem out yet, but has another year for his own future direction to make itself evident. “I spend my life by living from moment to moment,” he said, expounding a very Buddhist concept. In his looking at this problem, I got the feeling that Dr. Tada will call upon his Buddhist faith to show him the correct way to go, a faith he converted to, from Catholicism, while at university as an undergraduate.

Like most successful people, and doctors in particular, time constraints mean that hobbies cannot be all-consuming. He used to enjoy the occasional round of golf or tennis matches, but these days his physical needs are served by three gymnasium sessions each week. After that there are house renovations and gardening - and reading. “Anything, but not medical! I do enjoy Le Carre.”

His personal philosophy does involve the concept that time is finite, “Time is our most precious commodity,” and that personal effort is needed for success in any field. He feels that the successive generations are losing sight of these concepts, “There are problems with the young people not going in the right direction. They have to develop sincerity in their personal lives. Young people do not work as hard as we did in our time. Everything in this world can come true if you try hard enough,” he said with conviction.

And with “Time being our most precious commodity” Dr. Tada excused himself as he had run out of that precious commodity and our interview had to finish. Dr. Tada is a man of medicine, from a long family involvement in medicine. He has already left his mark, but is still young enough to continue to influence the direction and application of medical principles. He is one of the quiet achievers. He is a medical colleague I can admire.