Less-traveled roads to M.D. make a difference

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Less-traveled roads to M.D. make a difference

BUNDANG, Gyeonggi
Today, he’s an intern at Cha General Hospital here, but Jeon Ju-hyun never quite was an exemplary medical student.
It took Mr. Jeon six years after graduating from medical school to be certain he wanted to become a doctor. He could have chosen a far easier ― and faster ― route, but first he had to be a pro game player, serve in the military, work as a real-estate agent and an auto mechanic and even spend some time on the unemployment rolls before passing the National Exam for Medical Practitioners this year.
Mr. Jeon, now 31, remembers it was 1998 when his life took an unexpected twist. At the time, he was in his senior year at Konkuk University. Tiring of his medical studies, he came upon something that made him feel alive ― the online game StarCraft. Without knowing it, from his first try he was hooked.
“I thought I needed to find something that I really wanted to do,” Mr. Jeon said, adding that he thought StarCraft was that something he had been craving.
Concentrating all of his energy on his cyber-mission, he slept no more than three hours a day. Nine months later, he had earned a No. 1 ranking in the Starcraft World Championship. He then wandered the country from one PC-room tournament to another, raking in prize money at each contest. In that one year, he won 60 million won ($50,000) in contest money.
But there were consequences. He failed the national doctors exam that year and lost the opportunity to enter the Korean Army as a medical officer. Instead, he entered the army as a private, bringing his brief career as a pro gamer to an abrupt end.
He doesn’t regret his time as a pro gamer, though. Rather, he believes the competitive lifestyle he had will help him walk the long, tough road to becoming a doctor.
While in the army, he studied to become a real estate agent in his spare time. Upon his release from the army in the winter of 2002, he passed the real-estate agent exam and went on to open his own office in the Seoul satellite suburb of Bucheon.
But his curiosity about real estate was no match for the harsh reality of a sluggish economy, and within four months, he had flushed all of his prize money down the toilet.
These hardships failed to deter him, however. He decided to fatten his bank account again, only this time he wanted to experience life as a grease monkey.
“I had always dreamed of healing people or fixing cars when I was younger,” he said. He landed a job as a mechanic at a small gas station in Bucheon, getting paid 35,000 won a day.
“While I was a mechanic, I had plenty of time to talk to the daily contract workers there,” said Mr. Jeon. “We stayed up all night, sharing our thoughts about our dreams. I would have never experienced that if I became a doctor right after graduating from medical school.”
He worked hard as a mechanic for six months. Then, one night, he found his mother weeping softly in private; she was worried that her son couldn’t keep a stable job.
“At the time I was crazy over StarCraft, my parents were out searching for me at every PC-bang they could find,” said Mr. Jeon. “I gave them a difficult life.”
The sight of his mother crying led him to hit the books once more ― to become the doctor that he was supposed to have become about six years earlier.
He quit his day job at the gas station and wrestled with the medical textbooks. Bridging the six-year gap in his studies wasn’t easy, though; he had forgotten the meaning of relatively simple medical terms like “appendicitis.”
But he persevered, sleeping only four hours a day. Finally, in January this year, he passed the exam to become a physician.
When a reporter met up with him last week, Mr. Jeon was in the hospital emergency room treating a middle-aged man with a burn. As an intern, he works at the hospital for 15 hours a day. Despite the long hours, he said he was quite happy being with the patients.
Mr. Jeon compares himself to a Zealot, a StarCraft character who is known to be daring and makes the dash forward to save the team even if it means sacrificing itself.
“I like the Zealot in particular because it has a powerful propulsive force, yet it is quiet,” Mr. Jeon said.

by Park Tae-kyun
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