Kevin Jeong admits he “got a little queasy” while observing his first open heart surgery earlier this summer, but said that won’t stop him from following his dream of entering the medical profession.
Jeong, who is going into Grade 12 at Nanaimo District Secondary School, was one of 10 B.C. high school students selected from dozens of applications to participate in the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon’s High School Summer Research Program.
The 17-year-old spent most of July at the Brain Research Centre at the University of British Columbia mentoring with Canada’s top cardiovascular researchers, trying to unlock the mystery of cardiovascular disease.
“Yeah, open heart surgery took a bit of getting used to,” said Jeong. “I want to become a surgeon so if I can’t [watch surgery] it’s going to be kind of weird. At the same time it was really phenomenal to see something like that right there in front of me. I thought ‘wow, not every kid gets to see this’.”
Jeong was inspired to apply for the program by his friend Amandeep Parhar, who participated in the program last year. Jeong and Parhar volunteer together at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. He was also motivated by his NDSS social studies teacher Mrs. McGregor and biology teacher Mrs. Vann, both of whom helped Jeong with the required essays for the application.
“Mrs. McGregor has a daughter who took the program and she recommended to me it was something I could consider and she helped me a lot with my application,” he said. “Mrs. Vann is one of the coolest teachers I’ve ever met. She wrote a reference for me and helped me select an essay topic. I’m grateful for all of their help and inspiration.”
While getting a first-hand look at some of the work he would be doing if he decided to follow the path of cardiovascular research, Jeong said that making connections with people currently in the field and future doctors and scientists was one of the program’s most rewarding experiences.
“That was one of my goals, to make friends with the students who were there. Maybe I’ll see them later on in college. I also got to meet a lot of cool people in my lab and they said to call if I ever need volunteer experience. They said they’d write me a reference letter,” he said.
The High School Summer Research Program is designed to motivate students with a strong interest in biology or medicine to consider a career in cardiovascular research.
“The Heart and Stroke Foundation funds some of the world’s leading cardiovascular researchers right here in B.C.,” said Jeff Sommers, manager of research and science at the Heart and Stroke Foundation of B.C. and Yukon. “We’re thrilled to connect today’s leaders with tomorrow’s. We couldn’t do it without the generous support of our donors.”
Jeong said he became interested in medicine at a young age while living in Korea. With poor air quality in that country, he and many of his family members developed asthma and other health conditions that the health-care system was poorly equipped to deal with. He said he wants to make the most of his opportunities in Canada to help people.
“I went there to determine if I really want to go into this field, if I’m really interested, and I discovered that, yeah, I am,” he said, adding that he is still young and will carefully consider every opportunity that presents itself. “Cardiovascular was pretty cool, but so was the brain stuff. Do I know which one I want to go after? I’m not sure, I mean, I’m still in Grade 11. Watch me become a lawyer or something.”