Inside Track: Kim settles into hospital presidency
New administrator was trained as a physician from an early age.
Hyung Kim said he was raised to be a physician.
According to the traditions of his native country of South Korea, his parents laid out several instruments representing different professions. Kim chose the stethoscope.
Many parents probably follow the tradition only if they’re happy with the path the child chooses, Kim joked. His father was an orthopedic surgeon and his uncle was an OBGYN, so in reality, he likely chose the stethoscope because he was familiar with it, he said.
Either way, his parents were excited and raised him to be a physician. That means they made sure schoolwork came first as he was growing up, he said.
“They consistently made it clear that I was instilled with certain abilities,” Kim said. “The reason was that I was supposed to help people.”
His family moved to the St. Louis area when Kim was 5. Each day, he had to complete his homework, practice piano and violin for an hour, and then he could have fun with his friends.
He said his parents always had intended he go to Johns Hopkins — the university that published the textbooks his father and uncle used in their medical training — and that had been his personal goal since about age 7.
Kim fulfilled that plan. He attended Johns Hopkins for an undergraduate degree to increase his chances of being selected for its medical school, which he completed in 1992.
DR. HYUNG KIM
DR. HYUNG KIM
Kim said he had worked so hard toward achieving that goal that once he had, he almost was unsure what to do next. He does think having a goal is important to help navigate the innumerable career paths someone could take, but he also sees the importance of understanding that that path — his included — may not always lead where expected.
“I would say, definitely, it's important to have a goal, and it's also important to be open-minded about the things going on around you because what we are actually here on this planet to do may be different from what we initially thought it was.”
That path led Kim away from practicing medicine and toward the administrative side of the industry. In May, he took the role of president at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital.
During medical training, Kim said he chose internal medicine for the challenge of solving patients’ difficult problems.
“That's always something that intrigued me,” he said.
Kim wanted to return to the Midwest and completed his residency at the University of Michigan, then started at a community private practice with the St. Joseph Health System in Ypsilanti.
In doing that work, as well as his role for the health system’s quality assurance committee, he thought an MBA would help him understand the business perspective of the industry.
“Once you start private practice, I was amazed at how much of the way I practiced medicine ended up getting dictated by rules from administration and from insurance companies,” Kim said.
He also had a role helping transition management of some primary care offices after an acquisition. That’s when he realized that while he knew a lot about practicing medicine, he didn’t know much about management.
He decided to take a two-year break from practicing medicine to complete the MBA at the University of Michigan, but that degree led him down a different path than what he had planned.
“That two-year hiatus from the university ended up being a lot longer than I planned,” he said. “I never intended to leave clinical practice, but it just kind of happened that way.”
After graduating, he wanted to get some experience in the business world before continuing to practice medicine, as he planned to do. He thought doing some big consulting projects would be a good way to achieve that, and he joined New York City-based McKinsey & Company. His plan to spend a year or two there turned into five years.
“I loved being at a place like McKinsey, so driven by its mission, so driven by desire to have lasting substantial impact on its clients,” he said.
The consulting work demanded heavy travel, and he decided he wanted to spend more time with his wife and young children.
“I got to the point where I realized that it's got to be more than just my professional interest. It really has to fit within the context of kind of the life that my wife and I want for ourselves and her for our family,” he said.
That’s when he joined Ascension Health as vice president of research and development. He initially was uneasy that the system may demand heavy travel, but he said he was drawn to its “mission-focused” culture.
“To be a part of a senior leadership team at a place like that — I couldn’t resist,” Kim said.
During his time there, he launched and led the system’s internal innovation center, which led the health system’s use of modern technology in health care. This was 10 years ago when a lot of those conversations were just beginning, he said.
“We had a chance to test that kind of stuff 10 years ago, and it was amazing to be able to do it, to be a part of an organization that had the foresight to invest in that kind of work,” Kim said.
But the travel caught up with him and his family after five years, and he joined Southern Illinois University School of Medicine as the associate dean for clinical affairs and CEO of the university’s health care system.
Kim spent the last six years as senior associate dean for clinical affairs at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.
In 2015, he recertified through the internal medicine board. He said taking that test — after initially taking it in 1995 — reminded him how much the health care industry has changed over the years, particularly in the level of humanity displayed, which he thinks is embodied well at Mercy Health.
“Our physicians really understand the unique talents and skills and experiences of the whole cadre of different professionals who come together to take great care of patients here,” Kim said. “There's so much complexity now that team-based care is just the way we have to do it in order to deliver the experience and the outcomes that I think everybody wants.”
Kim said he is still learning about how Mercy Health operates, but he already sees a “supportive culture.”
“I actually don't worry very much about team-based culture here,” he said, “because I think it's just a part of what we do at Mercy Health and at Mercy Health Saint Mary's.”
He said he believes being a physician allows him to identify when providers should be involved in certain administrative decisions. Hearing those voices, as well as those of people receiving care, will be important to inform the hospital’s progress moving forward, he said.
Even as Kim gets a better feel for the hospital’s position, he said he is sure teamwork and openness will be important going forward.
“Despite amazing progress that's been made in terms of the quality and the safety of care, we have a long way to go in terms of the cost of care, and so we have a lot to learn from other places, and we need to be courageous about trying those things,” he said. “Change is the only constant, as they say.”