Hometown: Seoul, Korea
Current city: Atlanta, GA
Undergraduate: Georgia Tech University, B.S. Biochemistry
Medical School: Emory University
Residency: Pediatrics, Emory University
Take be back a decade, what did you want to be when you grew up? Omg.. a decade ago I was 17?? I thought I was like 9! I’m 19 at heart. My biggest concern at the time was getting into a college. I didn’t have a big ten year plan because my parents didn’t know US colleges. I didn’t have anyone to tell me things such as how many high vs low tier colleges to apply to, what it's like to interview for college in US, how to find financial aid, etc., so I was preoccupied with figuring those things out. I always knew I wanted to do something science-based rather than liberal arts. Medicine was in the differential at that time, but not number one. I thought maybe study economics because it combines math and social science.
Tell me about your college application process. I didn’t have a green card yet. A lot of places won’t give any scholarship to a foreign student. I applied pretty broadly, and I got into Tech [Georgia]. They were initially going to charge me out of state tuition because I was a foreigner, but they offered me in state tuition after I produced multiple tax returns and my Georgia high school diploma.
How did you decide on a major? Between applying and getting accepted to Tech, I took AP chemistry and really liked it so I decided to major in chemistry. I changed my major junior year to biochemistry. They’re in the same school so it didn’t make a big difference.
Why did you change to biochemistry? I didn’t want to take pchem II. Plus by that time, I was decided on medicine and the biology classes for biochemistry better prepared me for the MCAT.
How did you decide on medicine? Starting college, I knew I wanted to go to graduate or med school, but I was undecided between MD and PHD. I joined a research lab and started volunteering at Grady towards the end of my 1st year of undergrad. I worked in the Cardiology clinic filing paper charts (this was back in the day of paper charts). Then I was transferred to the 7JICU - answering phone calls and helping nurses change patients. After my four hour volunteer shifts, I would ask doctors if I could shadow them. I still remember a neurosurgeon who let me watch him put in an EVD [external ventricular drain] - that was so cool to me as a pre-medical student. It’s still cool to me now.
Why medicine over phd? I really liked my research group I worked with, but I hate writing. My PI rarely came to the lab because he was always writing grants. As much as I liked my research group, it was only those ten people every day. Medicine is more fun in that way - I meet new people everyday.
What did you do to be a good medical school applicant? I looked up a lot of stuff online. It sounds simple — “high GPA. good extracurriculars. volunteer everyday. brush your teeth three times a day. save the world.” I don’t know. I tried to do as many of those things possible. I kept my grades up. I thought about taking MCAT prep classes, but they were three months of my TA salary, so I just studied on my own. Rather than doing something for show, I did what I liked. I was pretty involved in the American Chemistry Society at Tech. I visited local elementary schools pretty frequently. I would do chemistry demos and judge science fairs. It was really fun. I wasn’t a member of a dozen clubs. I just did one or two, but I was in leadership. Oh, and I did research.
What did you TA? Organic chemistry lab for a semester. It paid for my food.
What kind of research did you do as an undergraduate? I worked in a basic science lab studying photodynamic characteristics and reactive oxygen species production of fluorescent proteins. I worked on the same project for three years, so I was able to get some decent results out of it. I got a second author publication and I did a twenty minute oral presentation at the National American Chemistry Society Meeting.
What advice do you have for undergrads who are applying to medical school or want to get involved in research? For research - you have to pick a good PI. Research, at least as an undergrad, is all about your mentor. As an undergrad, the grad student you work with will also make a big difference. You don’t have a huge choice in what project you’re involved in and how much you can be involved. Interview with multiple PIs and find someone you think you can work well with.
As far as applying to medical school - one thing I wish I’d done is get more experienced academic clinicians to look at my personal statement. I think that was the weakest part of my application packet. I hate writing. I’m not good at it. I had professors proofread it for grammatical errors, but they don’t know what medical school personal statements should look like. They couldn’t give me good feedback on “does this make you think I’m a good applicant for medical school? Does this tell you if i’ll be a good doctor?” They didn’t know that.
How did you keep your GPA up? I studied (laughs). I see a lot of people whine about their GPA. I always ask them “how much did you study?” One important thing — you have to figure out how you learn the best. The earlier you do that the better. I can’t read and memorize information. I have to do questions. I learned that when I was in college, and it proved even more useful in medical school. I have to do questions and apply it - “oh this is how you use this formula in this context.” You have to figure out how you learn the best. That’s very specific for everyone. I can’t tell you what works for you. You have to learn from trial and error.
How did you go about choosing a medical school? Location was big. The name of the place also played a role. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that. I didn’t care much about price tag because all medical schools are expensive, and I thought I’d be able to pay for it. (maybe I didn’t think that part through? I was very optimistic. I’m still hoping that’s true). The people mattered, definitely. The thing I remember most about my Emory interview day is the students having coffee and cookies with the applicants right before their exam. They didn’t seem too stressed. They weren’t cramming. They seemed very interested in our lives even though they had a big exam starting in minutes. They were also excited to talk about their medical school experience. They seemed happy. That’s what I like about Emory - it is a very low stress environment. Oh yeah - don’t go anywhere where you have letter grads in the preclinical years. That’s unnecessary.
How did you decide on pediatrics? I hate adult medicine. haha. All kidding aside - for kids, it’s not fair. When I see a really really sick kid or a kid in a really bad situation, before I can even think - my heart moves. I feel sympathy. I feel bad for this kid and I’ll do anything to help him or her. When there’s a sick kid, I want to help them all the time, everything. I work really long hours, but i’m never too tired to care about my patients. It’s harder for me to be sympathetic with adults because so many adult problems are secondary to smoking, drinking, bad diet, etc. I came into medicine knowing I wanted to do pediatrics. If I did surgery, it would be pediatric surgery. If I did urology, it would have been pediatric urology. I quickly realized I didn’t want to do a surgical subspecialty, so here I am.
What challenges did you face along the way? To be honest, I had things pretty easy. I can't really think of anything that I can call a "challenge". I have been extremely fortunate to have my parents and mentors who supported me and went out of their ways to help me. And I always had a small but close group of friends, which is important. Things have just unfolded as I was just pursuing what I like to do.
When did you learn English? I moved from Korea to Georgia when I was 14. I did learn a little English in Korea, when I was taking it as a foreign language in middle school. I knew the alphabet and greetings. I guess it would be the equivalent of you taking two years of Spanish here. I mostly learned English watching re-runs of Friends on TBS.
What do your imagine for your career in the next decade? I'm not exactly sure. I'm still debating if I want to do a fellowship or not, and if I were to do it, which field I'm going into. But hopefully in 10 years, I'll be done with all my training and practicing medicine.. Maybe in an academic center. I would love to keep work with residents and medical students. I think I'll like teaching.