Human body is composed of complex internal and external structures and each part is handled by different medical specialty. Names such as internal medicine, surgeon, or ear-nose-throat, ENT, give away what kind of doctors they are. But “family doctor” is not quite clear. Here we have Dr. Kevin Kim(35), who is a family doctor at the Carle Hospital, and we will listen to his stories as a family doctor.
When I was living in Europe for a short while, the “family practice” system was common, and it helped us out a lot. I don’t think “family practice” is as well known in Korea or in the United States. Can you explain what kind of doctor a family practice physician is? Who needs a family practice physician?
Family Practice is an area of Medicine that you can think of as a combination of Pediatrics, Obstetrics, Internal Medicine and Geriatrics. As the name gives out, you could be a physician for entire family members, including ones still in mother’s womb, all the way to geriatrics. In America, access to medicine is different than what Koreans are used to in Korea; instead of patients seeking particular specialty out themselves and seeing that specialist based on their symptoms, the family practice (FP) physician is the overseer of his patient’s health. FP physician would be able to manage most of patients’ chronic diseases, however, he or she would make referrals to specialists as needed. Great thing about having a FP physician is that this doctor would know the patient as a whole person and manage all the different systems together, rather than treating a person just as a sum of many different parts. I believe this brings a holistic approach to patient care.
It sounds like a family practice physician would need to know all the body parts well, not just one part, if they even perform simple surgical procedures. Does it take more time to study than other medical specialties?
Yes, I do many simple outpatient procedures, such as joint injections, skin biopsies, cyst excisions, toenail removal, etc. We definitely need to have more generalized understanding of medicine, as you mentioned, as we need to be familiar with whole body system. However, the training period is not any longer than other specialties. Actually, family practice has one of the shorter residency training tracks compared to other specialties. Other specialties go much deeper into their particular fields of interest, but family practice would need to cover much wider spectrum of medicine but at a relatively shallow depth compared to a more specific specialty.
You started studying medicine late, having worked in another field before. What was your motive?
I had an opportunity to go to Kenya as an interpreter for a team of physicians from Korea, and there I felt a certain calling to go into medicine to serve the weak and the neglected. One of the verses that inspired me was “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people (Matthew 4:23 NIV)”. Now I understand that I may treat people as a doctor, but only Jesus can heal.
Do you still volunteer? Where do you go mostly? What are the difficulties you experience there? What thoughts do you have after visiting there?
Yes. One of the places I have been serving in the past year is a local free Christian clinic, called Champaign County Christian Health Center. This is a local clinic where people with low or no income could come to be seen by volunteer physicians and also to be connected to different local resources, if needed. Also I have gone to Thailand and Costa Rica recently as a member of church for medical missions. The areas that we went to are economically very impoverished, and they have difficulties accessing medical clinics or hospitals. So we worked as a traveling clinic, going from one town to another, seeing a few hundred patients at each location. What I feel after returning from trips like these is that there is so little that I can do. I feel giving medications for a month or two may not make much difference, but I know God can use anything for his glory. There is also the sense of increased responsibility that comes after seeing that I have been “freely” given from God what I have, as I have been fortunate to have been born in Korea and studied in America rather than other parts of the world where I wouldn’t have been able to, and have so much more compared to what they have.
What difficulties did you have that were different from people who studies from the beginning? On the other hand, in what ways is it advantageous? What advice would you give to people who are making a late start?
I think going back to school after being in the job market and at work has been difficult. Also the fact that I was married at the time when I decided to go back to study made it more difficult. But I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do. I studied engineering during my undergraduate, and having worked as an engineer made me realize that this was not for me. Also having that sense of calling for this field of medicine helped.
Was your family supportive? What were you worried about the most?
There hasn’t been much opposition to my decision to pursue medicine from my parents, but it was a bit tougher with my wife. My wife and I were both working when we got married. She was a systems analyst, and I was an engineer. So leaving the security of job and income to pursue something else that was not a part of our plan when we got married made her decision much tougher than anybody else’s. But I am so thankful that she decided to trust my decision, and she has been very supportive. It was definitely a long, tough journey for both of us, going through the medical school and the residency, and I truly believe that, without her, it would have been impossible to make it through them.
What kind of doctor would you like to be? A doctor who is kind to his patients? A doctor who makes accurate diagnosis?
I want to be a physician who truly cares about patients with a holistic approach towards people. You suggested as an example whether I want to be a physician who is kind or who can make correct diagnosis. I believe there has to be a good balance of both. One who may be kind but without adequate knowledge is incompetent to be a physician, but also one who may have all the knowledge without much care for the well being of patients may run into many problems with patients not being compliant as patients may feel that they are not cared for. I would like to be one not just promoting physical health, but also health of body and spirit.
What do you usually do in your leisure?
I love playing tennis, so I try to get together with friends to play regularly. Otherwise, I play with my kids at home. Lately, I have been trying to set aside time to exercise regularly, so running has been one of activities that I try to do regularly.
Can you introduce your family?
I am married and I have my wife Doeun Kim and 2 children, a daughter who is 6 years old and a boy who is 3 years old.
Do you have any plans or dreams for the future?
I want to be faithful in all the things that I have been entrusted with, as physician, father, husband and Christian.
Marie Hong/Editor in Chief