By Jamie Shafer
From the start of our conversation, Dr. Yooson Kim readily acknowledges that fear and dentistry tend to go hand in hand. WebMD reports that up to 20 percent of people avoid going to the dentist due to fear or anxiety. “No one likes coming to a dental office,” she shared. “They will often say, ‘It’s not you. It’s nothing personal.’ No one really wants to be there. In fact we often talk about this in our morning huddle with the staff.”
Although patients often approach their appointment with some negativity, Dr. Kim reminds her staff that they are there to comfort patients and provide them with the best service possible. “Some of our older patients talk about bad experiences as children that traumatized them. We’re always hoping to change that for them and give them a great experience.”
Dr. Kim’s practice, Family Dentistry in Morgantown, Pennsylvania, has grown quickly, although initially it felt like a large leap of faith. She never dreamed she would be a business owner. As she and her husband, Erik, were just beginning to start their family, Dr. Kim says she envisioned being an associate in a practice. At the time being an owner felt like too much to handle. However, she also knew her current job wasn’t going to work in the long term.
Leap of Faith
Dr. Kim reflects, “My husband was very supportive. I left my job and didn’t know what was next. I found a fax in my machine that said a practice was available. We went and looked, and within a month we were able to acquire it.
“It was extremely scary to sign for more loans. I remember sitting in a car wash with shaking hands after signing the papers because my heart was pounding so much, partly with joy and partly with fear. In fact I still don’t know how the bank decided to loan me more money since I had far more liability than asset. I have to believe God provided the right bankers and accountant to help me through that stage.
“Amazingly, from day one God always has provided. The initial practice grew to standing room only in the waiting room in six months.”
Dr. Kim says that originally she thought she wanted a job where she could clock in and clock out, but God had a different plan for her “through a refiner’s fire.”
She loves that dentistry is a place where relationships are built and maintained. Every six months she gets to check in with people and hear what is happening in their lives. “Unlike many other fields, we get to build long-term relationships with patients. This field fosters good in-depth conversations. People will lie in the chair and talk about so many interesting things,” she says with a laugh. “It’s almost like a psychologist chair. It puts people in a vulnerable position, and they feel more comfortable sharing.” She wonders if it is a bit of fear that makes people more honest and open in the moment.
“Fear is natural and is such an important element needed to build trust and gain comfort in God. It’s the same thing in dentistry. I have many patients of mine who end up overcoming the fear of dentistry with me and now enjoy coming to dental appointments.”
Growing Through Fear
Far from those early days, Dr. Kim has now been practicing for 16 years and has a staff of 12 people. She has even had the joy of seeing some longtime patients begin to bring their young children.
She gives credit for her success to God and to the support of her husband of 20 years. Dr. Kim lost her mother to cancer in her first year of college, finding herself feeling miserable, depressed, and betrayed by God. It seemed God had failed to answer her prayers. She stopped attending church. Yet she says God provided even in that moment.
“Losing my mom, who was my anchor, left me with fear of so many unknowns and loneliness. Her death drove me away from God. I had a terrible second year in college with depression and anger, and then I realized I had to change. I applied to become a residence hall adviser. Coincidentally I was assigned to a hall with all Christian fellowship members, and I met my husband, who brought me back to church and faith. In hindsight I did see how God always had prepared the next steps.”
Dr. Kim concludes, “Sometimes I wish I could look ahead and then I would be more thankful right now, but that’s what makes faith, faith. It is knowing that he will always provide.”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.