What Makes You Stronger

How Dr. Yooson Kim learned discipline through adversity in her personal life and professional career.

By Daniel Beaird

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is Dr. Yooson Kim’s motto. 

Dr. Kim maintains a broad array of interests in the field of dentistry: she sustains her busy practices, is a certified trainer for SOLEA®, and is a consultant and key opinion leader for a variety of emerging dental technologies and concepts. As a leading dental practice in Morgantown, Pa., Dr. Kim and her team at Family Dentistry of Morgantown are committed to the highest quality of cosmetic dentistry.

Born and raised in South Korea, Dr. Kim received her doctoral degree in dental medicine from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. She has an extensive research background with the school, as well as with the National Cancer Institute, and the National Institute of Health, and has been recognized and awarded for her research publications. 

“Growing up in Korea was simple, yet hard,” she said. “Everyone was driven and expected to be successful. During middle school, I took a one-hour bus ride to school and arrived at 5 a.m.” She then had classes before school starting at 5 a.m., school from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and then more classes until 7 p.m. “This was all geared toward preparing for a test that allowed you to advance to the next grade.”

Dr. Kim would take the one-hour bus ride back home and take piano lessons for another hour. Then, it was homework and dinner, only to start it all over again the next day.

“I don’t know if I had time to think about if it was fun or not because the day was so packed and structured,” she said. “I just had to keep moving forward.”

Move to the U.S.: learning and keeping busy

She moved to the U.S. with her parents when she was 16 years old, and still remembers anxiously learning her ABCs on the flight.

“I was the only Asian person in my high school in rural Maryland,” Dr. Kim said. “I don’t remember what I was learning because I just had to get myself into it and learn what I needed to learn. If people were making fun of me, I didn’t understand it and just moved forward.”

Dr. Kim eventually graduated as valedictorian of her high school class but found it difficult to have more free time in the U.S. compared to Korea.  She filled it by taking on three jobs. She made biscuits at Hardee’s in the morning before school, was a carpet estimator after school because of her strong math skills, and in the evenings and on weekends, she taught piano.

“I needed to keep busy, and I was able to test my English skills,” she said. “But I still won’t eat biscuits from Hardee’s.”

By her side: during mother’s fight with cancer

She was also a translator for her mother during her mother’s fight with stage four ovarian cancer.

“She was diagnosed almost immediately after we arrived in the U.S.,” Dr. Kim said. “Being the only child and the one who picked up English fast enough, I was the one who had to be in charge and responsible for translating medical conversations and making decisions with my mom. I felt like the field of oncology was my calling and I wanted to become an oncologist.”

Dr. Kim’s mother enrolled in the NIH Cancer Research program and was one of the first patients to receive alpha interferon drugs. Dr. Kim joined NIH for its cancer research opportunities. She secured funding, did research, and had a guaranteed job through high school and college.

Her career path changed in college when her mother passed away. Dr. Kim knew then she wouldn’t be an oncologist because she didn’t want to experience the loss associated with the death of a patient.

She changed her track from pre-med to pre-dental, attended dental school, and opened her own practice. 

Office flooded but still standing 

Through the years Dr. Kim has grown and expanded her practice and the reach of the high-quality dentistry she provides. But amidst success and growth, there are still unexpected challenges. Dr. Kim recently walked into her dental office on a Monday morning to find flooding from a water main break near the street. But contractors were quickly there, and the dental team worked to disconnect all the equipment.

“Our teams were basically just waiting to know what they could do to help,” Dr. Kim said. The team came together to quickly start saving what they could and prepare for the needed repairs.

Dr. Kim’s dental equipment vendor, A-dec, has disaster relief and moved Dr. Kim’s dental office to the front of their production. “They pushed us up so that we could get into our chairs,” she explained. “They drop-shipped everything to the office and bypassed the distributor.”

While the flood was a terrible disaster that shut down the office, Dr. Kim kept positive: “The office didn’t burn down. It wasn’t a fire. We have places to go and people to take care of. I can’t complain,” Dr. Kim said. 

Every day: a true leap of faith

Throughout Dr. Kim’s life, there have been trials and challenges. “There were many points in my life I could have stopped and blamed it on what life dealt me,” she said. “I was in a dark place many times and not sure where to turn. The decisions I had to make were leaps of faith. But isn’t every day of our lives a true leap of faith? Every day has been a miracle in itself.”

Dr. Kim says she tells her redemptive story’s ups and downs to show why her “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger motto” holds true.

Dr. Yooson Kim, Dr. Kim is Founder & CEO of Family Dentistry of Morgantown. Dr. Kim received a bachelor’s degree at Franklin and Marshall College and DMD from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine. She has an extensive research background with the National Cancer Institute, the National Institute of Health, and has been recognized and awarded by the University of Pennsylvania for her research publications.