Above and Beyond

Michael Kim


If you were to take a stroll across Alcalá Park and ask students about their role models, you’d likely get answers as eclectic as the people who provided them. And likely it wouldn’t surprise you if they listed a collection of musicians, athletes and activists; it is, after all, a college campus.

But Jonathan Kim ’12 has an answer that doesn’t really fit the conventional mold. Then again, neither does he. “Well, it may not be the most popular type of role model, but I am really inspired by the work that orthopedic surgeons do with injured soldiers,” admits the 27-year-old corpsman, Navy SEAL, math major and soon-to-be medical school student. He aspires to join that select group of men and women who, among other duties, serve as critical care responders to injured members of the U.S. Armed Forces. “They were the ones that had the ability to save the men and women on the front line, and I thought that was really amazing, being able to help in that way.”

The more time you spend with the humble, yet highly motivated Kim, the more you realize the front line is exactly where he wants to be. During his two combat tours of Iraq in 2006 and 2008 with the Coronado, Calif.-based SEAL Team 3, Corpsman Kim witnessed firsthand the brutal price that ally and enemy alike pay during battle. Yet, to be successful at his assigned duty of treating injured Americans and Iraqi insurgents, Kim had to equip himself with an ample supply of something not often found in war zones: humanity.

“Is it difficult to treat people who would kill you if they had a chance?” Kim asks rhetorically. 
“On a personal level, obviously. But it comes down to the Hippocratic Oath — refuse treatment to no one. It doesn’t change during times of conflict. Enemy combatants, civilians … we provided care to everyone who needed it, and once someone is no longer a threat, you treat them like everyone else.”

That respect for the sanctity of human life is coupled with a desire to support the brave men and women who sacrificed so much in the name of service to their country. Kim’s journey has let him from the conflict-ravaged streets of Ramadi, Iraq, to the more sedate confines of USD classrooms in order to pursue his undergraduate degree in mathematics. He approaches his studies with the same laser-like focus and attention to detail he developed during his time in the Navy. In the process, he’s earned a spot at the top of his class (he has a 3.99 GPA, received First Honors and has been on the Dean’s List every semester since his enrollment in the fall of 2009), along with the admiration of those whose lectures and office hours he never seems to miss.

“He’s an outstanding student. One of the top students that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing in 15 years of teaching,” says Assistant Professor of Physics David Devine. “Jonathan makes me absolutely proud to be an American.”

Kim has submitted medical school applications far and wide, and while the waiting may be the hardest part, he can take solace in the fact that his dream of becoming an orthopedic surgeon will be supported by scholarships awarded to him from the Department of Defense, Cox Communications and USD.

“I’ve really enjoyed my time here at USD, and the close relationships I’ve developed with the faculty have really been beneficial in keeping me focused on my end goal.” — Mike Sauer