Dr. Jieun Kang, Class of 2025 – Resident Profile

Dr. Jieun Kang, who goes by Ellie, stumbled into neurology by way of her experience on the high school speech team. The supportive and down-to-earth nature of the residents and attendings that she witnessed during her residency interview was enough to convince her to spend her residency at Vanderbilt. In her free time, she enjoys discovering new music, exploring fun food spots, and spending time in Nashville’s many scenic parks. 

Tell us about your background and how your path led to Vanderbilt. 

I was originally born in Houston, Texas. After third grade we moved to Naperville, Illinois, so I consider myself a Chicago-area person. I grew up as an only child with my parents and our Yorkie, Sally. I went to undergraduate at Loyola University in Chicago, which was a really great experience. I made some of my closest friends during that time, and I loved being in the city. I majored in biology and minored in neuroscience. 

In high school, I was on the speech team, which led me to my interest in neuroscience. I became very interested in how we communicate. So throughout undergrad and part of medical school, I wanted to go into developmental and behavioral pediatrics with the goal of studying communication for children on the autism spectrum. 

In my third year of medical school [at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine], I got to my neurology rotation, and I realized I really enjoyed talking to adults. I also had some really interesting patient cases. For example, we had a patient in the clinic and we were able to diagnose that person with Brown-Sequard syndrome without any imaging, just based on the exam in the room. And I enjoyed observing and working with the stroke team under these high-pressure situations. So based on those experiences, I decided to pursue neurology. 

What attracted you to Vanderbilt for residency?

My experience of interview day definitely was a huge draw. The people I interviewed with were so down-to-earth, no frills, and I felt they were the kind of people where what you see is what you get. I remember particularly Dr. Lee being so kind and accommodating to my different interests. I’m a firm believer that no residency or fellowship is going to be perfect, but I look for people I can trust to help me find opportunities to explore my different interests. I felt like Dr. Lee could make that happen. I also loved watching the Chairman’s conference. Our program here at Vanderbilt is so unique in that our Chairman takes a very active role in our education. I don't think there’s another program where you see the department Chair three times per week. 

I also loved meeting the residents at the pre-interview social—they looked so happy (even the interns)! I loved that they showed up for that interview event, even though they are so busy. I remember walking away thinking, “there’s nothing wrong with this program!”

Who have been some important mentors for you along the way? 

Some of the people who influenced me and shaped me as a person were some of my teachers and coaches in high school. To this day, I remember this saying one of my speech coaches used to tell us: “Always be happy, but never satisfied.” I think this is perfect in every capacity. It's great to celebrate your accomplishments and be happy with what you have; but we’re only human, and part of life is being able to work on yourself and find room for improvement as an individual, doctor, or friend. So that advice is something that has propelled me in my career.

Also in high school, my orchestra director was someone I could go to for advice about anything. He taught me that if you really want something to work, you’ll find a way to make it happen in some capacity. For example, in my career, I might be very busy with lots going on in addition to many competing interests, but I’ve found ways to bypass different obstacles to get to my destination.

Here at Vanderbilt, I want to give a collective shoutout to all the attendings and senior residents. They are such a caring bunch, both on the inpatient and outpatient sides. Even the attendings I don’t spend a lot of time with will remember my name and stop and ask me how things are going. I have no problem going to any of the attendings for advice on anything. 

What have been some highlights of residency so far?

I love the people. I was very surprised and blessed to have met a very familial culture here, including all the residents from all the classes. And the attendings are wonderful, as I’ve already said. Also the Department of Medicine is incredible and so supportive of the intern program, which we don’t talk about often enough. 

The amount of exposure we get to an expansive array of different pathologies, patients, and demographics has been so helpful to my training. I feel like I will be very well prepared by the end of my training because of this.

What kinds of challenges have you had to face? What has helped you rise to meet them?

Despite my experience with the high school speech team, I am more of the type to quietly observe and do my thing, so really speaking out and gaining confidence was difficult for me at first. It’s something I’m still working on, but I think I’m getting better at it. The education and training I’ve received is helping me build that confidence. The environment here allows you to speak your mind about things without feeling intimidated. That is so important because you have to be able to practice calling the shots in a safe environment. I know that if I voice an opinion or ask a question, I won’t be criticized for it. 

What are your plans post-residency? 

I am working on pursuing a stroke fellowship. 

How do you unwind after a long or difficult call shift? 

Sleep is probably the most honest resident answer! Aside from that, I’m a very music- and arts-oriented person. I enjoy exploring different music and finding new bands. I go on Spotify or YouTube—I like listening to playlists compiled for a particular mood. One of the newest bands I have found is Wave To Earth, which is a Korean indie band. I’ve been telling all my friends about them.

I also like going to the parks around town. My mom just visited so we went to McCabe greenway. I’m trying to take up running and hoping to run a half marathon this year.

I am also a major foodie; I love exploring new restaurants and cuisines. I’d have to say currently, my favorite spot is “Kisser” a Japanese fusion spot that started off as a pop-up and is now fully established as a staple to Nashville! 

Is there a hobby you have not had a chance to pursue yet, but look forward to exploring when time allows?

I would like to do pottery and ceramics with wheel-throwing. I don’t have the time to commit to pottery classes right now, but I hope to soon. I would also love to get back involved as a violinist in an orchestra setting. COVID got in the way of that a little bit, and for a long time my schedule couldn’t commit to an ensemble setting. My hope is in the next year to get back into that. 

What's the most inspiring place you've ever been? 

A place that really has stuck with me is Quebec. I went in winter time and that place just defines Christmas. It was so beautiful and I loved the differences between old and new Quebec, and the people were very kind. It's a memory that I can look back on and get that warm, fuzzy feeling. It was a nice getaway from the super busy world we live in. We need a quiet place to rewind, relax and focus on ourselves, and I feel like that’s a good place to do it.