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‘I got a C+, but I did not give up,’ says Penn State Medical School Dean Eun Young Kim

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Dr. Eun Young Kim

Dr. Eun Young Kim, the newly appointed dean of the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and the first Korean-American woman to lead a medical school, is receiving recognition for her efforts in raising the bar for women and minorities in the field.

Currently serving as the vice provost for research at the University of Chicago Medicine, she has dedicated the past two decades to advocating for equal healthcare rights for Asians and Asian women.

The Korea Daily recently interviewed her, discussing her aspirations, accomplishments, and advice for future generations. Here are some edited excerpts from the interview:

-When did you first dream of becoming a doctor?
“I remember when I was four years old. Despite having no doctors in my family and not being particularly interested in science, I was determined to become a doctor. I wasn’t the typical Korean-American child who excelled in math, and I even received a C+ in chemistry. However, I persevered and gave it my best.”

-You have spent decades advocating for healthcare equality. What motivated you?
“When I had just become a regular medical doctor, my mother passed away in 1996 from hepatitis B at a relatively young age. It was a disease that I had never heard of or studied during medical school. I was devastated to realize that there was little social or national attention given to diseases that specifically affected Asians and Koreans. I felt compelled to take action, so I started organizing and speaking out about it 20 years ago.”

-We heard that your parents were actively involved in the Korean American community in Chicago.
“Both of my parents attended graduate school at the University of Chicago. My late father, Tae Bum Kim, was a co-founder of the Korean American Association, and my late mother, Sung Ok Hong, instilled in me the values of giving back to the community and the importance of character rather than material possessions. They were remarkable individuals.”

-Your brother, Kwang Woo Kim, is also in a prominent position. Can you tell us more about him?
“My brother is a genius. I still remember our parents’ surprise when my brother told them he was going to major in philosophy and play the violin. However, as the head of a school, he is now able to provide opportunities to many talented students who may have financial difficulties but possess musical talents. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

-Becoming the first dean of a medical school carries significant meaning. Could you elaborate?
“Considering the overall background, yes, it does. While 20% of medical school graduates are of Asian descent, only 2% of deans across the 158 medical schools are Asian. The dean search committee often expects candidates to have English as their first language, avoid being submissive or humble, and exhibit leadership qualities. There is indeed a ‘glass ceiling,’ and we must break it bit by bit.”

-So, was your appointment as dean an exception?
“I believe it was due to my work outside the campus. It wasn’t easy to advocate for Asian healthcare rights for 25 years with a clear intention and purpose. We developed the first curriculum on health inequality in medical school. I commend the school for recognizing this leadership, and I hope to expand the efforts made in Chicago to Pennsylvania.”

-Korean students may aspire to follow in your footsteps. Do you have any advice for them?
“Believe in yourself, and if you need assistance, don’t hesitate to seek support. Don’t suffer alone. When you’re working towards a goal, stay focused and don’t let others dictate your limits or tell you that you’re done. Set your own standards and strive to surpass them. If you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything.”

-Your family must be thrilled about your achievements.
“Typically, family members know who you are but may not fully understand the nature of your work. When I shared the news with them, they were surprised and overjoyed.”

BY INSEONG CHOI  [support@koreadaily.com]