HeeRak Kang is one of about 60 “non-traditional” medical students who didn’t come to Upstate Medical University right out of college, but instead spent several years in the workforce or pursuing other studies.
HeeRak is 32, married with two children, ages 3 and 2. After graduating from Syracuse University with a degree in computer engineering, he worked for nine years as an engineer at Welch Allyn, a manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment. Along the way, he earned a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the Rochester Institute of Technology.
Why medical school?
“A month before my graduation from SU, my grandfather became ill and couldn’t come (from South Korea),” HeeRak said. “That’s always affected me a little.”
HeeRak is also an insatiable learner. “I’m passionate about learning,” he said. “I’m always going to be curious about how things work, and how to make things work better.”
That includes the human body, which HeeRak likens to a “really, really complicated machine.” If you take care of it by eating a healthful diet and exercising, you stand a better chance of keeping it in good working order.
That’s especially hard to do in the third year of medical school.
MS IIIs gain experience and gauge their interest in specialties such as surgery, pediatrics, emergency medicine, psychiatry, family medicine, OB/GYN and neurology. For the 165 students in the Class of 2017, it’s a marathon of weeks-long clerkships and shelf exams.
HeeRak’s days and nights are long. The first weeks of his pediatrics clerkship this summer, he typically awoke every morning at 5:30 so he could get to Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital by 6:30. He’d meet with fellow students and medical residents to get caught up on patients, medications and lab results.
From 7:30 to 9:30, HeeRak saw the two patients assigned to him; at 9:30 he and a few other third-year students accompanied an attending physician and medical residents on patient rounds, room by room. This often lasted until early afternoon without a break.
After a quick lunch, HeeRak and other students attended presentations by medical residents on patient care and treatment, followed by 3 p.m. followups on his two assigned patients — checking their status, calling labs for test results or primary care providers for more information.
With two pre-schoolers at home, HeeRak empathized with the concerned moms and dads he met. “When you’re a parent, you understand the fear” that accompanies having a child who’s sick or injured, he said.
HeeRak had to pick up his own kids at daycare before it closed at 5 p.m. and — if he wasn’t on call — he’d be home for family dinner. Then it was time to study, sometimes until 11 p.m., before starting all over again the next morning.
HeeRak isn’t sure which specialty he’ll choose, but he said his psychiatry clerkship was amazing. And he’s enjoying his current clerkship in family medicine at a small practice. “I’m always learning, and I like connecting with people,” he said.