Relationships, Sense of Community Drive Integrative Medicine's Medical Director

By Jeffrey Field
February 9, 2018

Dr. Yoon Hang KimYoon Hang "John" Kim, MD, sees great value in establishing and nurturing harmonious relationships.

It's a belief that's guided him throughout his career, including in his role as director of Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System.

"In order to truly succeed in life, you have to mind your community," he says. "You have to mind your relationships.

Relationships are essential to integrative medicine, from understanding the cause-and-effect reasons for a patient's condition to the seamless collaboration of practitioners with a wide range of specialties and life experiences.

"You have to work together in a community," Dr. Kim says. "Treating patients is not a one-person job. It's really a team sport."

At an early age, Dr. Kim developed an interest in martial arts, especially tai chi, the foundation of which is also about a relationship – one between yin and yang. These opposing and complimentary forces lift each other up and serve as a primary guideline in traditional Chinese medicine.

Dr. Kim's martial arts experience also led him toward a 20-year practice of neuro-anatomical acupuncture, a science-based application of the ancient Chinese medical skill.

"It's something that I've developed over 20 years, specifically looking at a more scientific approach to treating (people) and getting the results in a consistent manner," he says. "I think that's what patients want."

It was a desire to better understand patient that took Dr. Kim away from his initial path to be a primary care physician. He found that many patients only make appointments with their primary care physician when they need a required checkup, a prescription or a referral to a specialist. They may only see their physician for 10 to 15 minutes – sometimes less. Dr. Kim feels physicians need more time than that to make a well-informed diagnosis and treatment plan.

"In integrative medicine, our visits are an hour, sometimes 90 minutes. I think those kinds of things do make a difference in terms of the relationship," he says.

Dr. Kim left family medicine and started studying medical acupuncture and preventive medicine, a residency that allowed him to take a more integrative approach.

He worked at Kaiser Permanente's Positive Choice Wellness Center and was later offered a two-year residential fellowship at renowned integrative medicine leader Dr. Andrew Weil's program at the University of Arizona, an experience he describes as transformative.

"Until I met him, I did not understand the power of a community with a shared vision," Dr. Kim wrote in his book, Tao of Healing. "Of all the lessons he taught me, this was perhaps the most important."

He would soon build that community in Tyrone, Georgia, a town of about 7,000 people southwest of Atlanta. At Georgia Integrative Medicine, Dr. Kim wanted to create a cohesive environment that promotes harmony and values people as individuals. He first operated the practice out of his home and moved to a larger location in 2008, as the Great Recession was getting started.

It wasn't easy, but his operation survived and thrived thanks to his team – many of whom were former patients. He used tea sharing to help his community bond. He looked for ways to improve their personal and professional lives. He helped promote harmonious relationships in his office. Doing otherwise wasn't an option, because dissension is bad for morale and a bad environment for taking care of patients.

"Coming to a place of sync, where a team is in sync, I think a patient feels at ease," he says. "That's something you can't buy – peace of mind."

The relationships forged in that Georgia clinic stay strong to this day. Even though he and the other team members no longer work together, they stay in regular contact.

After a decade in Georgia, Dr. Kim moved to South Florida, where he worked to develop an evidence-based integrative oncology practice at the Miami Cancer Institute.

In January, he took over as director of Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System. He chose to come to the health system because he appreciates the group's blend of functional, integrative and lifestyle medicine, calling it the most balanced program he's seen anywhere in the world. He says the people in the region are fortunate to have it so close.

He looks forward to forming more relationships within the Kansas City community and extends a tea sharing invitation for local leaders, board members and others interested in building bridges with Integrative Medicine.

Dr. Kim's deepest and most important relationships are with his wife, Vena, and his son, Michael. He believes family time is essential for strengthening those bonds, even routine things like grocery shopping, cooking, doing laundry and walking their dogs. He and his family have discovering the Kansas City area and have already developed a special fondness for the Kansas City Zoo.

Family time helps strengthen him so he can help strengthen others. He says seeing patients get better is the best part of the job, as well as watching how they face difficult health conditions.

"Very few people get to see that part of the challenge (they) have, and looking at how brave people are and how determined they can be."

This story is part of a series of staff profiles to mark the 20th anniversary of Integrative Medicine at The University of Kansas Health System. We can help every patient develop a personalized pathway to better health. Call 913-588-6208 to make an appointment with Dr. Kim or another member of our team.

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