John Yoo’18: Searching for the Right Career Led Him to Dentistry

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

When it came to choosing a career path, John Yoo always had music in the back of his mind. He began singing competitively when he was 5 years old. But John felt that a career in the arts lacked the one thing that was most important to him: making a direct, substantial difference in people’s lives.

With his mother as his coach, Mr. Yoo sang throughout his childhood and began auditioning for choral groups in middle school. “I practiced really hard, constantly recording myself, picking out the smallest flaws, improving my technique and my expressiveness, and repeating,” he says. His painstaking efforts paid off, and in his junior year in high school, he placed second in New Jersey, qualified for two All-Easterns competitions, and received the New Jersey Governor’s Award in Music.

As a freshman at Duke University, Mr. Yoo sang with Duke’s premier all-male a cappella group and a Korean band he formed with his friends. Academically, he focused on the pre-med track while conducting research on the side.

Still ambivalent about his overall direction by senior year, Mr. Yoo took a semester off to pursue clinical research with Duke radiologist Charles Kim.

It was Dr. Kim who challenged him to find his true passion. “He asked me a few critical questions, like, ’Do you know for certain that you want to go into medicine? Have you considered your other interests?’” Mr. Yoo recalls. “I realized I didn’t have a great answer. And Dr. Kim gave me time off to explore.”

Mr. Yoo tried adolescent music therapy at a psychiatric hospital, shadowed in the pediatric oncology ward, and spent more than one all-nighter in his dorm room recording K-pop love ballads. “One afternoon, I shadowed my first dentist and my mind was blown,” he says. “It was the first time I saw the endless possibilities of community service through dentistry.”

For Mr. Yoo, dentistry felt like the profession in which all of his interests and talents intersected. “I loved the idea of seeing dentistry as the artistic medium through which I could help people—many, many people.”

He had always dreamed of living in New York City, but the community feeling at the College of Dental Medicine is what he loves best. “We are all one big family here, from underclassmen to upperclassmen to faculty to alumni. It’s so evident in how we treat and look out for one another.”

He has been able to pursue his passion for research, working with Shantanu Lal, DDS, associate professor of dental medicine, to investigate the latest Bluetooth-connected toothbrush that provides data on a user’s brushing habits.

“This field is constantly moving forward with new technology and evidence-based dentistry,” he says. “Being involved in research is like being part of the future of dentistry.”

Now in his third year at the College of Dental Medicine, Mr. Yoo has not looked back and, despite a busy schedule, has not given up his music. He still sings with his old band, Seoul Singers, and he recently formed a new boy band with two second-year students. “Check out the K-Town Boyz on our world tour of NYC!”