Grad Talks About Starting Medical School Later in Life

“Don’t become a doctor. Marry a doctor!” was something Gloria Hwang was told when she announced she was going to medical school a number of years ago.

Dr. Hwang says it had a lot to do with the time in her life when she decided to make the leap. “I don’t tell people my age, but let’s just say I entered med school a little later than most.”

“I Just Wanted to Help People”

In search of better opportunities for their children, Dr. Hwang’s parents moved the family from South Korea, where she was born, to Chicago when she was five years old. Eventually they settled in Los Angeles, where her extended family had made a success of operating dry cleaning businesses in California. Fortunately, Dr. Hwang had a few family members in the medical field who could open her eyes to the possibility of one day becoming a doctor. “I’m thankful that my cousin and his wife are physicians. They have always been there for guidance through the whole process.”

After finishing undergrad at University of California San Diego, Dr. Hwang worked as a drug rep at Parke-Davis, which was acquired by Pfizer in 2000. “I learned a lot while I was a drug rep, but I could tell it wasn’t going to be long term. I would meet with doctors to talk about the drugs I was selling, but in reality I wanted to be on the other side of the table. I just wanted to be able to help people, to provide them with care so they could get better.”

Getting Strategic About Medical School

Dr. Hwang wanted to be strategic about getting into med school. She decided to pursue a Master of Public Administration at NYU as a way to get back into the rhythm of school. She then enrolled at AUA in 2008. “When you’re studying so hard and working with others who are working just as hard, there is a sense of camaraderie. It’s like a club, and we’re all struggling through it together.” Dr. Hwang was thankful she had spent the time getting her master’s degree, but AUA still proved to be quite rigorous. “Med school is like drinking out of a fire hydrant. There’s almost a sense of panic because there’s so much you need to learn and a sense of urgency to learn it all.”

Now with the white-coat ceremony behind her, Dr. Hwang is completing her third year of residency at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, which serves a mostly indigent population. “Our patients speak many different languages and have many cultural backgrounds. It’s challenging at times. We treat people who would otherwise not receive healthcare because they don’t have insurance. Sometimes I’m treating people with psychological or life problems, which makes it difficult to find the right course of action.” Dr. Hwang’s time at Montefiore consists mainly of talking with patients, administering pain medications, and coordinating follow-ups. “I wouldn’t say that calling people for follow-ups is my favorite part of the job, but it’s so important to keep people on a schedule to manage their pain.”

How Hard Work Pays Off

Dr. Hwang is thankful for AUA helping her find mentors in the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R). “Nothing has come easy to me. I wouldn’t say I’m naturally brilliant, but I am a hard worker. I would not have been able to do this without the help of my mentors, Dr. Stitik and Dr. Foye. Their guidance and connections certainly contributed to obtaining this residency.” PM&R was attractive to Dr. Hwang because of its goal of enhancing the quality of life for people with physical impairments or disabilities. “The physicians in the field are great to work with, usually easygoing, humble, and kind. It’s very rewarding work because the patients are generally so grateful for the help we provide.”

Dr. Hwang has one more year of her residency, and she’s excited for the next phase. “It’s been a long road,” she laughs. Dr. Hwang doesn’t think she’ll stick around New York. “I’m a suburb girl. I’m looking forward to some peace and quiet!”

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