Alumni Profile: Sungjune Kim, M.D., Ph.D. (’10)
by Neil Chada (G2)
Dr. Sungjune Kim, MD, PhD is a 2010 graduate of the Vanderbilt MSTP and is currently the section chief for hematologic malignancy in the department of radiation oncology at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida. He will soon be transitioning to a position at the Mayo Clinic in Florida to lead the only carbon ion radiation treatment facility in the United States! I had the pleasure to speak with Dr. Kim about his career trajectory as well as his time in the Vanderbilt MSTP.
Experiences before, during and after the MSTP
Dr. Kim grew up in Seoul, South Korea and had an interest in science and medicine from a young age. As he completed his undergraduate studies in Chemistry and obtained a B.S. from Seoul National University, he became more interested in medical research. He soon determined that the pathways to becoming a physician-scientist were ubiquitous and well-established in the United States. He consequently moved to the United States and after completing some pre-medical coursework at the University of Pennsylvania, he matriculated at the Vanderbilt MSTP.
Dr. Kim reflected on his time in the MSTP as some of the best years of his career thus far having made some unforgettable connections and discovering his passion for research as well as medicine that drives him in his career today. Dr. Kim completed the MSTP under the original curriculum and did his PhD in immunology with Dr. Luc Van Kaer who at the time was in charge of the immunology curriculum for all Vanderbilt medical students. His PhD research focused on hematopoietic stem cell development as he was interested in pursuing a career in hematology and oncology. However, upon returning to medical school and experiencing the core clerkships and clinical electives, he found radiation oncology to be more appealing. With a strong background in physics and an interesting in cancer immunology research, Dr. Kim began his residency in the Holman pathway within the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of South Florida School of Medicine which allowed for dedicated time for research.
His post-graduate experiences really set the stage for his career as he had the space and resources to shape his research focus. Today, his lab focuses on studying radiation and its effects on basic immunology in the context of cancer. He also spends his time on various clinical trials regarding immunotherapy, radiation treatments and the combination of the two. His current role has been 80% research and 20% clinical, a ratio he was hoping to achieve during his training and one that he is thrilled about. These experiences along with his clinical practice have set him up well for his next position at the Mayo Clinic.
Reflections and Advice for Trainees
Dr. Kim strongly endorses one motto by which he believes everything has worked out – “If it makes you happy, just go for it!”. He mentioned that the path to becoming a physician scientist is long and arduous so it is ultimately the responsibility of the trainee to find ways in which they can stay engaged with their work. He noted that if you were to ever lose excitement in your work or if something doesn’t work out, then the best course of action is to acknowledge that and move on to something else. The training we have as MSTP students is versatile and equips us with skills across a wide variety of fields and there’s no shame in applying these skills to a different problem or situation. While there’s always work to do, it is important to take the time to cultivate life outside of medicine and expand your other hobbies and interests. Finally, Dr. Kim wanted everyone to know that there’s no one cookie cutter approach to taking on this field and everyone has their own way of finding what matters most to them. “Embrace change as it comes” especially since this a career path filled with transitions and we need to learn to not only accept but also to work with all the different situations that will come our way.