I am often asked how I chose Dermatology. My story is not one that is a straight path. In fact, it is one that is rather circuitous and serendipitous, to say the least.
I am the offspring of two South Korean physicians who immigrated to the United States in their mid-twenties to pursue their education and training in Internal Medicine. My father continued his training in Cardiology and my mother stayed a general Internist. I am the first born of two. Typical of the immigrant experience, I am the first generation born in the United States and the oldest grandchild on my father’s side, where overachieving and success were expected. The story of the Tiger Mom in the Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua had nothing on me. I laugh in the face of that Tiger Mom. I was driven and my mother pushed hard, while my father’s silently high expectation was overbearing at minimum. Straight A’s were expected, where an A- was met with disdain and disappointment.
All my studying led me to Yale for my undergraduate years, which was a great displeasure to my mother because I had been waitlisted at Harvard. She saw my acceptances at Yale, U of Penn and Princeton as failures. Just this past Christmas, my mother reminded me that I had not reached my full potential because I failed to go to Harvard. So is my life as a child of a Tiger Mom.
My father is an over-achiever. He was an academician, a Professor of Cardiology, and wrote 100 Cardiology textbooks and reference books in his second language. My mother is also an over-achiever who worked full-time all her life, first as an Internist in private practice and then as a Medical Director of the Eastern Region of the United States Postal Service. She achieved the rank of Colonel in the U.S. Postal Service, which was certainly apropos in more ways than one. Needless to say, when I went to Yale, expectations were that I would be pre-med and become a doctor. I grew tremendously at college, and I absolutely loved my experiences at Yale. However, through sophomore year, I thought that I was going to be an architect, which in my parents’ eyes was a catastrophic event, one to incite disownment or worse. I studied it at Yale despite their protestations, and I really loved it, although the pressure of being creative on a deadline was at times daunting. More daunting was finding out that the architecture students ahead of me were not getting paying jobs at graduation. I could not imagine being jobless after a Yale education. I certainly could not live that down with my parents. So I switched from Architecture to Neurobiology. Naturally, I had been taking my science courses all along, as expected of an Asian-American girl in the 80’s. Over-achieving was de rigueur.
Med school and residency were as expected– grueling, challenging, and torturous– but straightforward and rewarding in many ways. I got through it and did well. I was great at being a student in medicine. I was even better at being a doctor. I decided to follow my father’s footsteps and specialize in Internal Medicine and then Cardiology. The master plan was for me to take over writing his books and climb the academic ladder. I didn’t question it. I excelled in my Internal Medicine residency. I enjoyed teaching. It fit. My creative side wasn’t challenged in any way, but I had made a conscious choice to give that up years ago. I thought that Internal Medicine would be fine. However, my career path had other plans for me.
At the end of my second year in Internal Medicine residency, I had failed to secure my elective in Cardiology. I was beyond upset. I found myself assigned to Dermatology for four weeks, which I believed would be a waste of time and energy. On my first day starting my elective, I apathetically walked into the Dermatology Department with confused eyes. Beautiful carpeting, fancy front desk, quiet and calm among the patients. Where was I? This could not be the same University Hospital, where I had been toiling and training among sick and dying patients! Dermatology was a gift I had not expected to receive. I completed my Internal Medicine residency and despite mass disappointment from my father, chairman, and mentors, I chose to pursue Dermatology. Ironically, my mother was ecstatic over my decision. I have never looked back.
Dermatology is to me the best of both worlds. It combines Medicine and Surgery and allows me to spread my creative wings. I love how I am able to see both children and adults, where at times I am both Pediatrician and Geriatrician. I have continuity of care with my patients, but rarely have emergencies. Although my passion is Medical Dermatology, I truly enjoy the cosmetic side of my specialty. Most of my patients walk into my office happy and hopefully, leave happy too, because I have helped them. My Internal Medicine training provides me with a depth of knowledge for which I am thankful. I believe my patients benefit greatly from this facet of my training. I am able to develop relationships with my patients and their families. I have known some of my patients for over 20 years, and I feel humbled and privileged that they have trusted me with their care. Another amazing aspect of being a Dermatologist is that it has allowed me to be the kind of mother and wife who can be present and available, with time to spend with my family. Not every specialty as a medical doctor provides that kind of freedom and flexibility.
I am fortunate to have found my professional niche. Dermatology has given me the opportunity and privilege to grow personally and professionally as a woman and physician. I now find myself a small business owner in solo private practice. It continues to be a wonderful ride! Welcome to Honet Dermatology and Honet Cosmetic.
–Dr. Linda HonetWhy I Do What I Do