Dr. Hyun, you are a successful physician and a respected member of the community. What was your particular background that motivated you to pursue your career? As a doctor, you may have gone through various obstacles; can you share some of the most difficult moments during your career?
I was originally trained as a basic research scientist. In both undergraduate and graduate years, I had an interest in basic science, specifically in the field of cell membrane transport. After my PhD in Biophysics, I pursued postdoctoral studies in cell physiology. I was fascinated by numerous underlying cellular mechanisms, regulating electrolyte and nutrient transport, which are essential for survival. I studied these mechanisms in both health and diseased states, which often manifest as diarrhea. Clinical implications of these studies are obvious if we consider that diarrhea is one of the top disease threats. Root of the problems for many diarrheal disorders is found in the altered mechanisms of transport, and understanding the mechanisms and regulations provide a key to solution. I decided to pursue my career in medicine during my postdoctoral years. So, I began my medical school years, followed by medical residency and gastroenterology fellowship.
After gastroenterology fellowship, I had a busy life as a physician scientist at a university medical center, doing both clinical medicine and bench research. As a physician scientist, one has to keep up with the latest tools and treatments, and at the same time, face an unprecedented explosion of scientific discoveries. While it was quite challenging, it brought me a unique perspective to biomedical research because it inspired me with my personal experiences in caring for patients.
It wasn’t until I contact with the Korean American community in New York, which led me to a new career path as a full-time clinician in a private practice. The transition from physician scientist to a full-time clinician was not easy. However, there was a strong need for medical expertise in our community which overlapped with my focus and interest. Subsequently, I began to discover the ‘clinician in me’ and enjoy taking care of patients.
You’ve served as the president for Korean American Medical Association (KAMA) for two consecutive terms. Also, you are the founding president of World Korean Medical Organization (WKMO) and have contributed tremendously to the public welfare. What is your reasoning and motivation to create and operate such activities? Additionally, you’ve led numerous WKMO activities such as expanding regional chapters in over 10 countries. Where does your underlying strength come from?
Throughout the world, Korean medical communities have great resources and we are in the position to lead the future of medicine and matters of global health. This can only be achieved if and only if we unite and work for the same goal! Our successes rely on vibrant networks amongst Korean physicians and their communities. Networking is equivalent to continuing education because the more we learn, the greater chance we have at succeeding. We often hear education being compared to ‘filling of a bucket’ in providing students with information and data. However, real education is not only filling up the bucket, but also making the bucket bigger to accommodate more creative thoughts and information. This is what networking is and what it can offer. We make the bucket bigger to embrace the greater diversity. Networking is also about making relationships. It is a collective movement that can empower all of us in every aspect of our lives.
KAMA and WKMO are only two examples of these Kim, Dr. Sang Choon Cha networks. Each one of them has uniquely different roles and potential to contribute to our community. KAMA is a nationwide networking organization promoting collegiality among the Korean American physicians and empowering them to serve the community. WKMO is an international network, connecting Korean physicians and their organizations throughout the world. WKMO’s goal is to create a synergy through collaboration between different nations. KAMA and WKMO ultimately share common goals in their efforts to strengthen and facilitate the network of Korean physicians. The scopes and approaches of our organizations, however, are different and can be tailored to the different leaderships.
I am energized and motivated when I think of the potentials of Korean physicians and our roles in the community. The vision of global leadership and the difference we can make give great meanings to me and my core identity.
We have heard that you are interested in competitiveness of Korean healthcare systems. As a physician practicing in the US, what is the reason to have interests in global competiveness of Korean medical industry and its advance into global markets?
The scope of achievements in medicine and science demonstrated in Korea was remarkable during the past five decades. Modern medicine and bio-health industry in Korea represent a clear symbol of cutting edge medical research and advanced clinical care. In an era of globalization, the modern medical progress in Korea offers an unprecedented potential to enhance global health.
There are over 36,000 overseas Korean physicians outside the Korean peninsula, many of whom are international experts in their own fields. One may consider WKMO as a bridge connecting these vast human resources to Korea and vice versa. This leads to mutually beneficial experiences for both WKMO and Korea. Since, they share the same goals to promote awareness of the Korean medical sector and to contribute to the advancement of global healthcare.
For example, WKMO held 2nd Annual Convention in Las Vegas in 2013 under the theme named, ‘Partnership between Physicians and Health Industry’. We featured two specialty forums to evaluate and demonstrate the various roles physicians have in the advancement of the biomedical industry and the healthcare business. The first forum was called ‘Role of physicians in Drug development’, which consisted of Korea’s pharmaceutical CEOs and experts in the United States. It covered various areas of drug development and the role of physicians in the pharmaceutical industry. The second forum titled ‘Advances in medical Imaging’ featured radiology faculty from different institutions who touched on various tools and technologies, and provided important insights into modern medical imaging. We also heard from Samsung Medison and Electronics regarding on their current and future plans in biomedical technology. Additionally, similar imaging forums held during in 2014 and 2015 Conventions in New York and Los Angeles.
You’ve successfully completed the first term as president of WKMO and Dr. David Ko is elected as the next president. What is the future plan and vision of WKMO along with the new leadership and your support?
Dr. Ko is a highly respected physician in both America and the international community. He was the president of The Korean American Medical Association (KAMA) in 2014. Most recently, he served as the Chair for the 2015 WKMO Annual Convention in Los Angeles. His interest, hard work and passion for the Korean physician network in the United States and the rest of the world are highly regarded. Dr. Ko’s educations, experiences, and particularly, his dedicated services and leaderships in WKMO and other various academic societies make him eminently qualified to lead WKMO as the president.
It has been a great honor and privilege for me to serve as the president of WKMO for the past three years. I am thankful to be a part of an organization that contributes to the careers and lives of many physicians, and the community at large. It has been quite a journey for me and I am grateful to all those who stood by me with their encouragement and support.
I see tremendous potential for growth and prosperity for WKMO. We have enormous resources in the background of multicultural identity. Immediate goals of WKMO include advocacy for health equity in our communities, and promotion of outreach activities in the underdeveloped communities throughout the world.
You worked in a university hospital for several years and moved on to a private practice for the Korean community. What is your vision and philosophy about health services in community and healthcare in general?
The transition from physician scientist to a full time clinician was challenging. Private practice brought me the new perspectives. The practice of medicine in a community setting is very different from an academic center. Being in private practice, I learned how critical it was to get to know a patient as a whole before attempting to diagnose their medical problems. I learned how to communicate effectively with patients to get to the root of the problem. Oftentimes, patients and their illnesses are reflections of what their community has. As a result, it became critical that I understand the community.
As our society becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, physicians need to respond to patients’ various needs, values, and behaviors concerning health. Failure to understand the socio-cultural differences can have significant health consequences and management for minority groups. For instance, there are over two million Koreans living in the United States. Health issues of Korean Americans are diverse, and are often overlooked because of language and cultural barriers. Healthcare providers have the responsibility to work with the community to resolve these issues.
We also have to understand that current healthcare has evolved as a complex and challenging interdisciplinary field. Physicians have to go beyond the usual boundary of medicine, and interact with scientists, engineers, businessmen, lawyers, policy makers, and others so together we can safely navigate healthcare in today’s ever-expanding multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. We need to integrate the various expertise and develop new perspectives. Organizations like WKMO provides a platform for us to explore, interact, and establish a wholesome network through which we can find innovative approaches to deal with the myriad of today’s healthcare issues.
You are the founder of Asian Liver Center at Holy Name Hospital and have established another non-profit organization, Center for Viral Hepatitis (CVH). Why are you continuously emphasizing the importance of awareness of Hepatitis diseases in the community?
The most frequent cause of liver diseases for Korean people, viral hepatitis B, is also a crucial topic of ethnic disparity. There is a marked disparity between Asian Americans and White Americans in the prevalence of chronic hepatitis B and its complications. For instance, approximately 3-10 % of all Asian Americans have HBV infection compared with 0.1% of White Americans. Patient-related obstacles mostly consist of lack of awareness about the disease, language and cultural barriers, and Insurance issues. Additionally, providers and healthcare systems currently available in the US lack the understanding of the significance of chronic hepatitis B. Specifically, there is a lack of public health systems to meet the needs of multicultural populations. There is also a poor communication between providers and patients of different racial, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds.
The Center for Viral Hepatitis (CVH) is a nonprofit organization with the following missions: (A) to increase the screening for chronic hepatitis B (CHB) in high risk populations; and (B) to develop strategies to provide and maintain the efficient linkage to clinical care for Asian American CHB patients. CVH aims to reduce the impact of Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) infection and to limit the progression and complications from HBV-related liver diseases, thereby reducing morbidity and mortality associated with CHB.
With a serious lack of good health access models available for minority populations in the United States, the need of CVH and similar organizations is crucial to fight ethnic disparities and to promote culturally competent healthcare. scientists, engineers, businessmen, lawyers, policy makers, and others so together we can safely navigate healthcare in today’s ever-expanding multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society. We need to integrate the various expertise and develop new perspectives. Organizations like WKMO provides a platform for us to explore, interact, and establish a wholesome network through which we can find innovative approaches to deal with the myriad of today’s healthcare issues.
As a highly experienced physician, do you have any words of advice to medical students? And for other healthcare providers who are not currently participating in Korean Medical associations like WKMO, what is your advice?
I can think of at least three good reasons of why healthcare providers should join WKMO. First, it is the identity. We join because it says ‘something’ about us, about our roots, and very special commonness we share linguistically, culturally and historically. Second, we join WKMO, so that we can connect and build relationships because through this connection, we feel the power of belongingness. Third, we join for the sake of community. We want to belong to the community that is not only Korean, but also global community, so that our children can also re-identify with that same commonness we share.
Whether it is WKMO or KAMA, we serve to build a vibrant community. Be a part of the community with a purpose to share with others that we have been blessed with.
Dr. Chul S. Hyun
Inaugural President of World Korean Medical Organization
DR. CHUL S. HYUN obtained his B.A. from the Johns Hopkins University in 1977. After earning an M.D. from the University of Miami School of Medicine, he underwent internship and residency in Internal Medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center. Subsequently, he completed Gastroenterology and Liver Fellowship at Yale University School of Medicine. He is Board certified in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology and has been an attending gastroenterologist in New York Presbyterian Hospital where he currently serves as a clinical faculty in the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at the Weill Cornell Medical College. Dr. Hyun has served as the president of Korean American Medical Association (KAMA, 2011-2013) and is currently the President of World Korean Medical Organization (WKMO), a global network of 140,000 physicians of Korean descent. He is also the director general of CVH(Center for Viral Hepatitis).