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Regina Kwon

March 2017 - Regina Kwon’s list of work experiences before entering CU School of Medicine fills the first page of her resume: developing e-commerce tools at Christie’s Inc., infographic design and cost analysis at Ziff Davis Media, building a software platform that was purchased by Microsoft, adjunct lecturer at Hunter College at CUNY, research work at University of Colorado, New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical College. 

Then there are the things that aren’t on her resume: designing “cootie catcher” greeting cards, making linotype posters, and volunteering in soup kitchens.

So she was sympathetic when she learned that students who want to take a year off from medical school to pursue other interests sometimes have to abandon that dream because of financial concerns.

Most want to further their education in other fields by getting degrees in public health, business or law. But others want time to pursue a global health project, explore specialties or get involved in research.

The problem with those last three scenarios is that loan payments come due because the student is no longer in the educational process.

Kwon worked with the School of Medicine Office of Student Life to come up with a plan to keep students enrolled in school while still taking time off for independent study.  It’s called the Scholar’s Year.

“Our first student was someone who found out late he wanted to specialize in a competitive specialty, so he took a year to do research before applying for residency,” she says.

She hopes students will take advantage of the Scholar’s Year to help the community and themselves.

“If you had a year you could have such amazing accomplishments. Someone could start a community clinic like the DAWN Clinic. Or I’d love to see a student make a documentary about life in Pueblo. Ultimately it’s important that third years know it’s an option.”

Kwon, who took a break between third and fourth year to get a Master of Public Health degree, says a circuitous path to her medical degree has helped her immeasurably.

“I’ve had enough experience by now to know what I’m good at and what I’m not. It helps me focus my energy.”

She learned that she was at her best when working in process and execution, and at her worst when she was asked to do sales.

“I’m the person who figures out the details, how it could work and how it could fail. “

Kwon initially had no intention of going into medicine. She graduated from Yale University with a bachelor of arts degree in literature. She spent most of her college years pursuing extracurricular interests, including the school newspaper, volunteering and hanging out with artists and writers.

“I thought I would be a lawyer or a writer,” she says. When she began working on a startup health care newsletter she realized “I didn’t even know where my liver was.”

Jumping between jobs and careers made sense to her until 9/11. “I was at work on the balcony of the 13th floor watching the (World Trade Center) towers fall  ... I think we all took a look at our lives at that point and asked ‘What am I doing that is useful? What is my life about?’ ”

The answer didn’t come easily. She considered teaching and film production.

“I was also interested in science. So I went to talk to a mentor about a doctorate, and he suggested medical school.

But at 31 years old, she thought she was too old.

“I spent the early 2000s trying not to go to medical school. I finally enrolled when I was 39.”

Once in medical school, she worked hard to help her classmates and the school. Kwon, a Gold Humanism inductee, volunteered with the school’s curriculum steering committee and was elected national chair of the AAMC Organization for Student Representatives in 2015. To help first- and second-year students prepare for Step 1, she organized a weekly quiz series at a pub near campus.

As for her career, which she will start with a residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, she decided a specialty in pathology was the answer, though it wasn’t an easy decision.

“Pathology is the basis of medicine, so it’s a pretty amazing career. It makes me sad that I won’t be able to be a clinical preceptor, but pathology offers lots of opportunities for teaching and mentoring.”