Nova Scotia

From Hollywood to the hospital, a Halifax man's creative path to medicine

Creating videos featuring high-powered celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Kanye West and Travis Scott are career highlights. But so is practicing emergency medicine. Meet Dalhousie University medicine's 2020 valedictorian.

Dal medicine's valedictorian says working with stars Kylie Jenner and Kanye West is 'high stakes'

Creating videos featuring high-powered celebrities like Kylie Jenner, Kanye West and Travis Scott are career highlights. But so is practicing emergency medicine. Meet Dalhousie University medicine's 2020 valedictorian. 2:40

Only months into the COVID-19 pandemic and Dalhousie University medicine's 2020 valedictorian, Dr. David Hung, has already produced two medical education videos to aid doctors and paramedics fighting in the trenches.

Some might consider high-quality videos about high-stakes medicine impressive.

But creating content is nothing new for this newly minted doctor who's about to start his emergency medicine residency in Halifax.

Here's the twist: for the past few years, he's trained his camera on celebrities like Travis Scott, Kylie Jenner and Kanye West whom he's featured in a Netflix documentary, a shoe commercial and a music video.

Whether it's videos about viruses or rap stars, he's found the formula for success. "You have a task and you just do your best to accomplish that in really the safest possible way," said Hung. "At the end of the day, it's all the same."

Hung's unusual path to medicine started two decades ago when he was 11. He grabbed his dad's VHS camera to make videos of what he loved.

Hung, an avid skateboarder, says the sport brings together an eclectic mix of people where everyone is treated the same. He says the same should apply to medicine. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

"I thought I was going to grow up to be a skateboard video director, you know, at the time way before YouTube," Hung said in an interview at the Halifax Common skateboard park, where you'll still find him riding.

He fulfilled his early ambition by shooting and editing videos and commercials. From mini-films featuring Nova Scotia skateboarding star Johnny Purcell, Hung made the natural progression into music videos including one he made for Enfield, N.S.'s Classified featuring Snoop Dog.

For Hung, 31, he's proven that you can soar to great heights in the air, and in life, through skateboarding.

"Learning how to do things like land a kick-flip for the first time. It's a clear goal that you have in mind, and the nuances of how to move your feet and when to jump is just so convoluted at first that it takes thousands and thousands of tries," he said. 

"Not only is it the most gratifying sort of feeling, it's just a great marker of success. And I feel like getting to the point where you can get into medical school, matched to the residency program that you're interested in, is a lot of that," said Hung.

The skateboard park is conveniently located across the street from the emergency department at the QEII Health Sciences Centre where he'll work occasionally alongside his dad, Dr. Orlando Hung, an anesthesiologist.

He and his dad, along with his brother, Chris, who's also in medical school, recently collaborated with Dr. Ron Stewart, a former Nova Scotia health minister, on a paper for the Canadian Journal of Anesthesia about reducing the risk of catching COVID-19 when removing a breathing tube from patients.  

Hung, with his parents, Orlando and Jeanette, at the premiere of the documentary in Los Angeles in August 2019. (Dr. David Hung)

Hung turned on the camera to shoot and edit a video to accompany the academic paper

"It's on YouTube. Check it out, don't check it out. It's super boring, you're going to hate it," he said with a big smile. 

It couldn't be more different than his other works.

In the 2019 Netflix documentary Look Mom I Can Fly about rap star Travis Scott, Hung was on a team that captured Scott's wild concert energy. 

In his Kylie Jenner commercial for Adidas, Hung combines the esthetic of blending new video with an old VHS-style look, a signature in his skate videos.

And while working on Kanye West's music video Famous he honed skills he'll need as a doctor.

"When you work with anybody at that level, it's a work environment that's full of incredibly high expectations. Sometimes what that can feel like is high stakes, high stress environments," he explained.

"Working for someone in the entertainment industry may not be necessarily like a life or death circumstance. You know, some people could view it as the life and death of the career. So I think there's a lot of parallels to draw."

Roundabout path to medicine

Hung said he "tried not to go into medicine," but his roundabout career path still took him there. First he studied theatre, earning an arts degree at Dalhousie, before working as a paramedic in Nova Scotia for four years. 

He enjoyed the energy of paramedicine and the flexibility it provided to work in film, but he craved more. His father's love of being a doctor, even after long days in the operating room, had him reconsidering his career.

"Seeing him beaming with a smile ear-to-ear every single day he went to work, I thought that was so rare and unique and inspiring," he said.

From left to right, Tyler Ross, Jacob Smith and Hung working on a project in Los Angeles in 2016. (Riley Smith)

He's quick to credit his two best friends from Nova Scotia, director Tyler Ross and rapper Jacob Smith, who've helped him keep up his creative career while juggling medical school. 

When Ross found work in California, he remained loyal to his friends by recruiting them for projects.

Hung remembered his friends in his valedictory speech, which he delivered last week in a virtual convocation ceremony, and said they are examples of going against the norm in society.

"I just hope that my story, if anything, inspires people to think that you don't just have to fit into one box or one category," he said. "I'm a firm believer that anything is possible if you have the drive and passion to pursue it."

Having landed an emergency medicine position in his hometown, he and his partner can raise their newborn daughter with family close by. Hung also intends to find time to keep up with creative projects. 

He's still the film guy and the guy in medicine who's living his dream.

"If I can keep this up, everything will be just fine," said Hung.

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About the Author

Elizabeth Chiu is a reporter in Nova Scotia and hosts Atlantic Tonight on Saturdays at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m. in Newfoundland. If you have a story idea for her, contact her at elizabeth.chiu@cbc.ca.

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