Academic journal article Human Ecology

The Social Doctor: Hyuncheol Kim Aims to Alleviate Poverty and Improve Health in Developing Countries

Academic journal article Human Ecology

The Social Doctor: Hyuncheol Kim Aims to Alleviate Poverty and Improve Health in Developing Countries

Article excerpt

With degrees in medicine, public health, and economics, Hyuncheol "Bryant" Kim considers himself a "social doctor," going beyond patient care to address the socioeconomic causes of disease.

Living around the globe has inspired Kim's research. In his twenties, he backpacked through Europe, Africa, and Asia before returning to his native Korea, where he worked as a night ER doctor and fulfilled his mandatory three-year service as a public health physician in the country's Ministry of Health and Welfare. During those years, Kim closely witnessed poverty and its effects, both in Korea and in several developing countries, including Bangladesh, India, and the Philippines.

At his clerkship at a Korean breast cancer clinic, he noticed that wealthier patients came to the hospital at earlier stages of disease, while poorer patients often did not visit until they were terminally ill. "I felt this was unfair," said Kim, the Lois and Mel Tukman Assistant Professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management. "As an economist now, it's too obvious, but at the time I had no idea about socioeconomic determinants of diseases."

That realization spurred him to pursue a PhD in economics at Columbia, where he completed his studies in 2013. "As a medical doctor, I could help patients individually," Kim said. "But working at the Ministry of Health, I found that public policy has a huge impact on the quality of life of the population, so I wanted to be a social doctor instead."

Currently, his research focuses on public health initiatives in Malawi and Ethiopia, projects he started during his doctoral program. Both apply alternative approaches to support individual and family health and to divert young people from health outcomes associated with poverty.

In Malawi, working in collaboration with Daeyang Luke Hospital, Kim initiated an HIV/AIDS program targeting secondary school children. It offers scholarships and stipends to female students, who might otherwise resort to prostitution to pay for school. …

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