“[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him.  Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.'”

– Luke 4:16-21


This summer I did research with Sinai Urban Health Institute (SUHI) at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Chicago, a hospital that mainly serves the urban poor.  Somewhere deep in my heart there’s a tiny little room that yearns for the urban poor, and that tiny little heart led me to this research program.

Mt. Sinai Hospital was pretty ghetto as expected from a hospital that doesn’t make much money from their patients.  The building was old, water fountains were sketchy, and some of the bathrooms didn’t have fans to let out the smell after I occasionally… defecated in them.  To be fair, the parts that the patients see are nicer, thank goodness.  But the room I was working in had one freshly dead cockroach every morning (once, a cockroach was half-alive so I crunchily euthanized it).  And the wifi had a habit of dropping dead in the afternoon, as if to foreshadow the cockroaches’ fate that night.

But the ghettoness didn’t matter, because the research internship was so good.  In a lot of research programs, I hear the medical students are basically free/cheap labor minions.  Not here at Sinai Urban Health Institute.  The first full week of our internship was dedicated to educating us about urban public health issues, and throughout the next 7 weeks there was a day per week dedicated to field trips, book clubs, or other sessions to keep us grounded to the communities we were indirectly serving through our research.  Much of that training didn’t benefit SUHI directly (actually took time away from us and the staff doing more research), but they were more interested in inspiring and equipping medical students who can serve the underserved in the future.

Still, I’m not sure if I want to take my career to places like Mt. Sinai Hospital to serve the urban poor.  I won’t go into detail, but there are lots of challenges and barriers that come with treating the poor.  And there are lots of ways that lack of finances at a poor hospital can hinder the healthcare doctors provide and the training they receive.  Just as a small example, we mere student researchers probably lost several days’ worth of productive hours because of wifi problems; then imagine all of the other limitations that healthcare providers at Mt. Sinai Hospital face because the hospital can’t afford more or better rooms/machines/staff/etc.  I may have a high tolerance for ghettoness and difficult human interactions, but I don’t want to hinder my quality of training and services I would provide as a physician.  I have to wrestle with this for a while longer.


The question is, “Where will God take me?”  The tiny little room in my heart that desires to proclaim good news for the poor was built when I participated in an urban missions trip called Los Angeles Urban Project (LAUP) in 2011.  To be honest, I was skeptical and somewhat resistant during LAUP.  Then against my will, God led me to return to LAUP the following year as a team leader (a story for another blog post).  And now SUHI.  Still I am skeptical and resistant to jumping onto this path.  But I think my tiny little room for the poor is getting a teeny bit bigger.

One day while walking by the poor-looking people in the streets of Chicago, I thought, “When you need help, who will care for you? … I will be your doctor.”  I wonder if I was just thinking stupid things without actually thinking, or if it was a prayer that God made me pray.

Will God invite me to bring good news for the poor, proclaim freedom to the prisoners, restore sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor?  Of course.  That is a calling for all Christians.  The question remains whether He will do so by making me a doctor in the inner city.

If you’re reading this and expecting that I’m going to be some Mother Teresa-looking doctor, please know that I reserve the right to not be like Mother Teresa.  You’ll see what I eventually become, but in the meanwhile I’ll be at war with myself.

Simeon Koh