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Match Day 2017: How his immigrant experience shaped this future physician

Jason Han, For the Inquirer

Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017, 9:31 AM

Jason Han, a fourth-year medical student, at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Each year, soon-to-be graduating medical students count down to the third Friday in March, also known as “Match Day,” when they find out where they will continue their medical training. Jason Han, a fourth-year student in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania who recently wrote about medical errors from both sides of the stethoscope, shares his story here.

Students celebrating at the Perelman School of Medicine's Match Day ceremony Handout / Penn Medicine
Students celebrating at the Perelman School of Medicine's Match Day ceremony Handout / Penn Medicine
Students celebrating at the Perelman School of Medicine's Match Day ceremony. Handout / Penn Medicine
Photo Gallery: Match Day 2017: How his immigrant experience shaped this future physician

I first arrived in the United States when I was 10, accompanied by my brother, my parents, and many, many reassurances that this opportunity – immigration, as we later came to know it – would change our lives.

The first few years were filled with excitement and trepidation. Assimilating to a new culture while overcoming a language barrier was immensely challenging. I cried for an entire afternoon after getting a “C” on a quiz because I didn’t know the word, “triangle.”

Our family was dealt a crushing blow when my father lost his job and had to return to South Korea in search of another one. Only a year into our journey, it felt like the American dream was evaporating right in front of us.

It was during this crisis that my parents made an unforgettable sacrifice. My mother stayed in New Jersey with my brother and me to support our education. My parents’ separation lasted more than a decade, ending only when my brother and I were both in college and she and my father reunited in South Korea.

My parents’ selfless decision and the inspiration they provided us helped propel me toward my dream of becoming a cardiac surgeon. They have given me confidence that any goal can be reached with hard work.

But perhaps more importantly, growing up as an immigrant has also given me the humility to know that I could not be where I am without the sacrifices and help of my parents, teachers, and friends. It also helps me to reach out to my most vulnerable patients.

The first patient that I ever observed in cardiac surgery was a 6-month old boy whose body barely measured the length of my forearm. As he awoke from surgery, he kicked and screamed, moving with an electric will to live. I imagined that, like me, he wanted to embrace every opportunity to thrive. After rolling the bed back to the unit, I stayed by his bedside for just a little while longer, watching over his tiny body and praying for his recovery.

Being an immigrant helps me quickly adapt to new settings and discover ways to be helpful to others. The operating room operates so seamlessly – and with a language all its own -- that as a medical student it can be tough to be helpful to the team while also staying out of the way.

Still, in a way entering the operating room for the first time felt familiar, reminding me of my early days in America. I had to look to other kids for clues on how to belong in this new world. I expanded my vocabulary by listening to my friends. When I made mistakes, I committed those lessons to heart, never to repeat them.

Those childhood experiences give me comfort now, in another foreign environment. I persevered once. Surely, I can do it once more.

As Match Day approaches, my classmates and I are all nervous and excited to find out where the next chapter of our lives will be. Where ever I land, I am confident residency will be yet another experience that will challenge me to become the very best that I can be.

Fifteen years ago, I came to America not knowing what lay ahead. My experiences have shaped my own values and commitment to hard work and integrity. These ideals will continue to guide me, and permeate all that I do, whether it be surgery, writing, or one day raising a family of my own in this country.

Follow Jason and the rest of PSOM’s class of 2017 using #PSOMMatch to stay updated as Match Day approaches.

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Jason Han, For the Inquirer

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