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How, in their pursuit to become doctors, do students act in codependent ways with their teachers, parents, and peers?
What happens to students when they pursue a career, like medicine, not for themselves but for their parents, for status, or approval (codependent much?)?
How can we avoid pursuing a career, in medicine or ANYWHERE, to please others and instead follow our own dreams despite others’ disapproval?
In this week’s episode, Marissa talks with Dr. Joon Kim, a formal medical student, about the work he does with medical school applicants and the codependent behaviors he’s witnessed in them. Dr. Kim shares with us about the students he’s worked with who have chosen to pursue medicine “for their parents” and how codependent they’ve been on the approval of their teachers or acceptance into certain schools. Dr. Kim reflects on the frequency of burnout in medical students and how codependent behaviors may be a big contributor. We conclude with ways Dr. Kim helps his students determine what they want to do for their careers and pursue that in a healthy, independent manner. It’s a must-listen!

About this week’s guest: Dr. Joon Kim is a former premedical student turned professor and advisor. Dr. Kim knows first-hand the experience regarding what it means to be “premed”. Though not a physician today, he has been helping students gain admission into medical school as well as many other graduate programs for the past 18 years. He offers advising for medical school applicants.

Dr. Kim’s contact information:

Join his free and private Facebook group for medical school applicants:

More details on this week’s episode with Dr. Kim:

How does Dr. Kim define codependency?
“I’m a big fan of the shorter the better: codependency is the unhealthy or excessive reliance on other people.” An excessive amount of reliance that release’s one’s ownership on their life where they abdicate responsibility to others.

Does Dr. Kim have any experience of codependency himself?
“Yes, as the son of Korean immigrants, I was in fear of wanting to do things to please my parents and do the right things. As the oldest son, I needed to be obedient, a high-achiever, and bring honor and prestige to the family. There was an unhealthy and excessive connection to my family members.” The pressure may not be explicitly from the parents–for Dr. Kim, he believed that “my parents gave up everything and every family member so [I put] a pressure to achieve [on myself].”

On this podcast so far, we’ve talked about “helping” professionals: therapists, social workers, nurses and other fields like teaching BUT NOT THE MEDICAL FIELD. How has Dr. Kim witnessed “hallmark” codependent behaviors in medical students?
“I’ve seen it in several dimensions to the individual: number one is their motivation for school. What is the underlying motivation for pursuing an education, what helps them drive towards certain fields? Their motivation has been outsourced.” Dr. Kim describes the codependence he’s seen in students where they “do this for someone else.” I see people “make life decisions predominately for someone else.” Talk about codependent!

Motivation for pursuing school AND the name of the school. For Dr. Kim, the students he works with become codependent on where they get accepted. He also witnesses their lack of boundaries between themselves and others. “They have value completely separate from their academic accolades and their perception is tied to their accolades and accomplishments.”

With parents, Dr. Kim has also witnessed codependency in them as they interact with his medical school applicants. Dr. Kim sees parents take their perspectives and experiences and “inject that into their kids.”

How was it when Dr. Kim decided not to pursue medicine? “I was dismissed from my undergrad institution.” Wow! Dr. Kim shares about being on academic probation, admitting it to his family, and how it was “the only time I saw my father cry.” Oof! “That was one of the first moments when my codependent self underwent a transformation. I moved out, I started working, and discovered that self-reliance!” Dr. Kim shares how that was what he needed to take ownership of his education and his fate! Wow!
“I realized that the big fear–and the reason why my father wanted me to pursue medicine was to have a stable income–when I shared my new objective in going into education, my mother and father were happy.”

Does Dr. Kim sense there is a connection between codependency in medical students and burnout? If so, how?
“There’s definitely burnout. I see it as early as undergraduate. For students that go directly into college–there’s burnout.” Dr. Kim shares how, if people are codependent, they will follow the formula from undergrad to medical school but not “figure themselves out.” The most common connection between codependency and medical school: the burnout is often due to “a lack of help-seeking behaviors. They don’t ask for help!”

What happens to students long-term when they base their self-esteem on external factors/people like good grades, letters of recommendation, and acceptance into medical school? And what if they don’t get in?
“Emotional volatility.” There are high’s and low’s since they are basing themselves on others but “it’s not sustainable.” Dr. Kim describes what he has witnessed in those who are codependent and derive their self-worth and identity based upon external factors. He describes work by Carol Dweck on growth and fixed mindsets and how those impact mindset. This then leads to motivation so, when we are codependent on others, we tend to have “fixed” mindsets on ourselves, our abilities and our relationships. He then shares his observations seeing students compare themselves to others and how damaging it is. Dr. Kim encourages his students, and our listeners, on comparing ourselves TO OURSELVES instead of other people and compare our goals to our own goals.

“I get them to remind themselves the goal is not to get into a certain medical school–the goal is to be a pharmacist, be a doctor, be a nurse…what’s the difference between a Kia and an Audi?”

How do you help the students you work with to focus more on what they want as opposed to what others want?
Spreadsheets! Helping them get grounded, realism, and find out their true motivations.

As always, thank you for listening!