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"It’s important to understand one’s personality and limitations when trying to accomplish tasks."

With an impressive list of qualifications and a busy career as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, Martin Ching was unfazed by the prospect of squeezing a law degree into his already demanding schedule.

Graduating with a Bachelor of Laws in 2012, the Geelong-based surgeon now volunteers his time as a community-service lawyer and plans to soon begin a PhD that investigates drug-related crime and sentencing law.

‘­ICE (methamphetamine) is now big problem in society, but users committing a crime while on this drug are not charged in the same fashion as those under the influence of alcohol. I would like to investigate the whole issue from the perspective of being both a doctor and a lawyer, to determine how the ICE problem can be better managed for either medical treatment or criminal punishment,’ he explains.

Martin first qualified as a dentist but wanting more of a challenge, he returned to university to complete a medical degree before settling on a career that merged both his skill sets.

‘I was accepted into a five-year intensive surgical training program combined with a master’s degree in surgery, to then qualify as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon,’ he says.

A decade later, after successfully establishing six speciality clinics – and managing two day surgery hospitals – Martin decided on a law degree at Deakin University as a back-up career plan.

‘I considered the possibility that age or ill-health could render me incapable of continuing surgery safely. So as a fall-back strategy, law was a perfect option,’ he says.

Fast-tracking his study, Martin says he was challenged by the ‘different approach and frameworks’ of a law degree compared to his previous studies in science and medicine.

‘It was stimulating and thought-provoking – and it provided a revelation of the functioning of the laws within Australia and government operations. It was eye-opening and educational and I gained a greater general knowledge from crime to ethics and business formalities.  My mind was challenged to a great new level.’

As a volunteer with the Barwon Community Legal Service in Geelong, Martin is now growing his portfolio of legal skills as he encounters a diverse range of clients and issues.

‘I’m gaining a variety of general law experiences dealing with the underprivileged and those whose lives are so complex that one could write many a sad chapter on domestic problems and a range of issues that span from financial hardships to family breakdown and abuse.’

Like his medical career experience, he’s also learnt there’s not always a ‘quick fix’ solution to complex problems.

‘Not being able to change – or solve – things quickly applies to medicine, surgery, dentistry and the law,’ he explains. ‘If a patient or client is reluctant to change their behaviour, I can only give them advice.  There is a famous saying – “a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still”. Doctors and lawyers can easily become disheartened if they become too emotionally involved in problems that they themselves cannot solve,’ he says.

Born in Australia to hard-working Chinese immigrants, Martin began work as a six year old by helping his father sell fruit and vegetables at Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Market.

‘We lived in a small house just across the road from the market and I shared a tiny bedroom with my three brothers. A few years, later my father started a restaurant and I had to memorise 60 dishes on the menu before we opened to be able to help out with taking orders and adding up bills – I was so small I had to stand on a chair behind the counter to see,’ he smiles.

But from the age of eight, he was already thinking about his aspirations and writing an annual list of goals and challenges. 

‘I would set myself targets in music and sport but was also aware and realistic about them and the length of time to achievement, which I have learnt is a combination of organisation, strategy, determination and effort,’ he recalls.

As a child he was offered a scholarship in music and singing but he says it was an opportunity his parents wisely declined.

‘On reflection, I’m glad they did as the thought of practising hours of music scales, and singing practice daily, would be sheer reluctant perseverance to say the least!’

Personal goal-setting has become a lifelong habit for Martin and it’s resulted in an extraordinary list of achievements including studies in three languages, piano, guitar, saxophone, flute, harmonica and mandolin as well as basketball, football, squash, swimming, running, cycling, tennis and martial arts

With a black belt in karate, he’s also undertaking special elite training which he says enhances his fitness and sharpens his mind.

‘It’s important to understand one’s personality and limitations when trying to accomplish tasks and to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances as they are presented,’ he explains.

For Martin, education has opened the gateway to an ‘exciting and diverse career path’, but with more on his to-do list, he doesn’t expect to be slowing down anytime soon and says it’s all about making the most of every minute in every day. 

‘I have always wanted to make careful and calculated use of the time I have,’ he reflects. ‘To involve ourselves in things that interest us and allows us to grow is just as important as pondering about what others are interested in and learning from their actions and behaviours.  And we should also train both sides of our brain with music and sport as well as the sciences, both the creative and logical for that is what makes a resilient being who is able to withstand the often-unyielding pressures and demands of the tides of life.’