Dr. SangAe Kim-Park Thrives in the USA

SangAe Kim-Park, MD has traveled a long way to her Trussville practice – all the way from Seoul Korea. She and her son and daughter came here when her husband was invited to UAB in May 1994. She had completed her medical training in internal medicine in Korea. While medical school was competitive there, she said that she did not face any discrimination as a woman getting into medical school.

"There's no problem getting in the medical school," Kim-Park said. However, "in my residency year, there was a little restriction when we entered the residency program. Only one woman per department – there was no more than one woman. We had to compete with each other."

Kim-Park was interested in helping people early in life, but did not initially think that she would be a doctor. While in high school, she remembers seeing a beggar injured in the street. She says that she initially thought, "I would marry a doctor to let him take care of these people." Later, she realized that she could be a doctor herself. "That's why I decided to go to medical school."

Here in the U.S., Kim-Park finished her family medicine residency program and uses her previous and current knowledge in her solo practice, where she is affiliated with St. Vincent's East. Kim-Park is also reaching out to fellow Koreans who live in the area. She has started a Saturday clinic, open every second and fourth Saturday. If she has a large demand for visits to the clinic, she may increase them to every Saturday.

"Montgomery Korean people are coming by driving more than two hours, and they cannot come during the weekdays sometimes because of work," Kim-Park said. "So we started our Saturday clinic in October, and we had a good response. We are going to continue at least twice per month. Montgomery has a huge Korean population."

Kim-Park is also interested in the prevention of chronic illnesses and helping her patients have long-term success in changing their lifestyles and their health.

"If I spend time talking with my patients about changing their lifestyle, then I can help them a lot — much more than giving prescriptions. That is my philosophy. My approach is MED (meditate, exercise, and diet)."

She asks her patients to meditate and think about what they need to do for at least a week or two. Then she gives them guidelines, but encourages them to take control of their care. "If it comes with their own idea and their own reasons exist, they will be more volunteering to change their lifestyle. Of course, I will talk with them, like what is our goal and when can we start. Eventually, it is their choice. They have more autonomy, and they love to be more in control."

Although Kim-Park is now settled into the community, adapting to life in Alabama did present a few challenges. When she first arrived, she went to the grocery store, and a woman tossed a basket in her direction. In Korea, throwing something to someone is a sign of disrespect and aggression.

"I felt a little offended at the time," Kim-Park said. "I thought it was kind of discrimination because I'm an Asian. Then later I found that throwing something to someone else has nothing to do with their attitude."

Another challenge was the language. Although her English is excellent, learning some common slang and southern sayings has been interesting.

"In our country, we learned the standard English. Here, when I encountered my patients, they're language is southern, so I had to learn another language. At the beginning, I had a hard time. If I didn't understand clearly, I always asked them back, 'Did you mean this?'

"The clinic staff were kind to me. They taught me southernese. They taught me some interesting expressions, like 'fixing to' and 'y'all.' They said 'fixing to' means you are going to do something, not that you are fixing something. I like that expression. I had to practice 'y'all' so many times," she said. "They are very nice. People are very nice here. I really appreciate them because they have to listen to me really carefully and attentively to understand my accent. English is a really difficult language, but I am enjoying being here."

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SangAe Kim-Park, University of Alabama at Birmingham


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