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something wonderful hero

Doing something 'wonderful' for those with cancer

Dr. Joseph Kim joined the UK Markey Cancer Center as chief of surgical oncology in 2018 driven to help those in Kentucky who are affected by cancer. A little more than a year into his tenure at UK, he’s doing just that.

A specialist in hepatobiliary and gastrointestinal (GI) cancer treatment, Kim leads a highly experienced team of seven surgeons and oversees all aspects of surgical oncology at Markey. It’s a role that allows him to have a significant positive impact on the lives of hundreds of patients each year.

We caught up with Kim to talk about his journey to Markey, the future of cancer treatment, and what motivates him as a doctor and as a researcher.

Why did you want to join the team at Markey?

Multiple aspects made it the perfect position. I did my training and general surgery residency up the road at the University of Cincinnati. Also, Dr. Emily Marcinkowski, one of the breast surgeons here, was one of my trainees at City of Hope in Los Angeles. She helped to recruit me here. Knowing somebody from the past was a special attribute.

I also appreciated the opportunity to work for a tremendously large organization with a burgeoning surgical oncology program. It was the type of challenge I was looking for – along with the opportunity to continue translational research.

What treatments are making a difference for patients with GI and hepatobiliary cancers?

Hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) is an innovative procedure for patients whose cancer has spread in the peritoneal cavity. It involves two steps. First, you remove the visible cancers. Then, you instill hot or heated chemotherapy into the abdominal cavity. There are two potential advantages to this process: Chemotherapy is applied directly to the cancer cells rather than in the bloodstream, and along with the heat, both directly kill cancer cells.

Every Friday here at UK, we perform robotic surgery for cancer patients. These minimally invasive procedures offer smaller incisions, less pain and quicker recovery. I have performed over 100 of these complex procedures, and I led a team at my previous institution in New York that performed the first fully robotic Whipple surgery for pancreatic cancer on Long Island.

It’s really important to me – and to Kentucky – that we have the whole spectrum of care for pancreatic cancer. It is one of the most common cancers in the state. We perform an average of one pancreatic cancer operation every week, while my research laboratory focuses on other treatment options for pancreatic cancer.

What types of research are you working on?

My research lab is looking at drug discovery using cancer models. We are using the research we’ve conducted in the lab and have partnered with industry to expand the use of life-saving drugs in the clinic. I have an assistant research professor who runs my laboratory on a day-today basis, and we have a research fellow who we brought to Kentucky from New York. My laboratory has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and American Cancer Society, and we’ve laid the groundwork during this past year for our projects to directly impact our patients in the near future.

What do you like most about working at Markey?

Even though it is a large institution, there is a lot of interaction, camaraderie and collegiality. It’s really been a great place to work. Everybody is so friendly here.

What inspires you as a physician?

What motivates me is my upbringing. I was born in South Korea and raised in Chicago. My parents immigrated to the U.S. to provide a better education for their children. My mother was an administrative assistant and my father was a welder, so it was a very blue-collar upbringing. My parents instilled hard work and Catholic values.

“It’s really important to me – and to Kentucky – that we have the whole spectrum of care for pancreatic cancer. It is one of the most common cancers in the state. ” Dr. Joseph Kim

My work at UK is never-ending, but it’s fulfilling. I come in the morning at 6 and I usually leave around 7 p.m. Personally, it is a challenge. All of these patients who we treat – we’re trying to do our best for them, and I try to give everything I have. The operations are technically difficult, and they keep you on your toes. When things are successful, it gives you a great deal of satisfaction that you’ve done something wonderful for your patients

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