2 August 2023

Doctor on a Mission


Dr Tom Mulholland has spent a lot of time on the water and, like any good seaman, he’s adept at changing tack. Scanning his vast CV is like a masterclass in how to cram as much living as possible into every 24-hour period. And since he plans to live until he’s 100, possibly 120, there’s likely to be many more volumes to come.


Where it all began

Tom started his career in forestry and as a Department of Conservation guide with a botany degree under his belt, before returning to university to study molecular genetics and then medicine. He spent more than three decades as an emergency department doctor and rural GP.


In frustration at the number of people succumbing to entirely preventable diseases, Dr Tom set out on a mission to be the ambulance at the top of the cliff instead of the bottom. Literally. He kitted out an old ambulance as a pop-up clinic and proceeded to travel the length and breadth of the country, swapping his vehicle for a boat or jet ski to reach D’urville, Chatham and Great Barrier Islands. His goal was simple: to improve Kiwis’ health literacy and teach them how to take responsibility for their wellbeing so they could “stay out of hospital and the morgue,” he says.


Tom has taken his medical skills further afield too, with stints in the Antarctic, Arctic and Pacific as a ship’s doctor and expedition leader and was awarded a NZ Defence Force Special Services medal for his work following the Boxing Day tsunami.


In addition to his hands-on medical practice, other roles Tom can lay claim to include best-selling author, internationally in-demand corporate speaker, university lecturer, TV and radio host, newspaper columnist, and founder of tech-based medical start-ups. Oh, and a stand-up comedian.


A catalyst for change

What prompted such a left-field foray into life as a funnyman? If Tom became a doctor because of a strong desire to help people, his turn in comedy arose from an acute need to help himself.


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“I went through a divorce and lost control of my company, so I was in a really dark place. Suicidal,” he says.


It was then he started learning about stoicism and cognitive behavioural therapy.


“It’s not what happens to you, but your attitude towards it that counts. When I figured out it was just my thinking that was wrong, I came up with a business plan. First, I wanted to write a book [on healthy thinking], which I did, and it ended up being published in 12 languages. I wanted to work with corporate clients. I’ve now done over two thousand speaking engagements.”  


And he gave himself six weeks to get from his garage to the stage.


“I wanted to prove I could go in a short period of time from being miserable to making people laugh, including myself.”


So, he called the Comedy Club in Auckland and booked himself a slot, with none other than local comedy legend Mike King as MC. Tom says it was great training for corporate speaking, which is what he focuses on these days.


“It’s better to be a motivational speaker who’s funny, than a comedian who’s trying to be motivational,” he says.  


Tom comes across as the kind of person who, no matter how deep and dark the pit they might find themselves in, they’ll always find a springboard. Resilient, in other words. He cements this impression when he casually drops into conversation that he’s just come out of 44 days in hospital, including five days in critical care, after falling while out on his boat and rupturing his pancreas.


“I’m just getting back into things now. But don’t worry, I’ll be fine to speak [at Lifetime’s upcoming Seminar Series]!” he says.


Pictured: Dr Tom Mulholland and his beloved retro Chevy V8 Ambulance

Pictured: Dr Tom Mulholland and his beloved retro Chevy V8 Ambulance

As well as speaking engagements, Tom still works as a doctor in some of NZ’s more remote locations and runs a private concierge clinic looking after a few clients who want to proactively invest in their heath to get the most out of their latter years. He devotes the rest of his time to KYND Wellness, an app which allows users to measure, monitor and manage their physical, mental and social health.


Embracing advances in technology

Tom has always been at the forefront of leveraging technology to improve health outcomes and believes its role in medicine will only accelerate.


“Over the next ten years technological developments will see us living to 100 or 120. We could probably live forever if we want to. The hard part is keeping up with the tech and managing the ethics around it. [Technology] isn’t going to go away, so we have to embrace it and use it as best we can. If you really want to invest in your health, the world’s your oyster.”


Personally, he’s planning to still be surfing, hiking, diving and teaching his great-grandkids to snowboard when he hits the century mark.


“I want to keep my health span as long as my lifespan so I can keep doing all these things,” he says.


Tom’s top tips for a better, longer life in later years:


  • Be proactive about your health. Just as you need a financial plan to make the most of your retirement, you should have a health plan too.
  • Find someone to be an advocate for your health, whether it’s a GP or specialist clinic. Someone who knows what to ask, what to look for and how to measure and interpret your health numbers.
  • Surround yourself with people on the same health journey, who are equally as committed to doing the things that will keep you well, like exercise and healthy eating.
  • Change your mindset about what’s possible, rather than shutting down opportunities because you think you’re too old. If you don’t use it, you lose it!
  • It is really important to find a sense of purpose as you age. Older people have too much valuable knowledge and experience to simply stop and fade away.

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Photo of Vanessa Glennie
Written by:

Vanessa Glennie

Vanessa is Head of Communications at Lifetime Retirement Income. She’s an experienced investment writer, having spent more than a decade writing about financial markets in the global fund management industry.

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