Las Vegas, Nevada - When third-year UNLV School of Medicine student Andrew Han first tells you he has “moved around a bit,” you get a fuller appreciation of understatement.

This is a young man who attended four different high schools — two in Colorado, one in Los Angeles, and one in Alaska — following attendance in two different elementary schools and three different middle schools in South Korea. 

So what does Han, who also spent five years on the high seas in the U.S. Navy prior to attending a California community college and then graduating from San Diego State University, have to say about finally settling down in Las Vegas, where his parents came to reside?

“I just want to have a stable life — and I can have that here. I’m sick of moving around,” he said.

When he looks at the future, he sees himself raising a family in Southern Nevada as he practices psychiatry; he believes what he’s learned in life can be used to help people during talk therapy sessions.

“I see great opportunity here,” Han said.

Born in the USA

His parents originally came to the U.S. from South Korea to study at American universities. Born in America, Han was 3-years-old when he accompanied his parents on their return to South Korea. Financial difficulties then brought the family back to the U.S. as Han’s businessman-father searched for solid ways to support the family.

“Soon after we moved to Las Vegas, I joined the military because my family was in a financial crisis with both of my parents unemployed. To support my family (Han also has two brothers) and continue my education (through the GI Bill), the military was the only logical choice at the time.”      

Han said his military experience, though sometimes stressful, has proved to be beneficial.

“I think I’ve experienced certain stresses in my life that can make me better relate to patients, especially some of the immigrant population we have here” Han said.

When Han returned to the U.S. as a teenager, he knew little English. “I found myself looking up so many words in the dictionary. I was put in an ESL (English as a Second Language) program. I had to repeat my freshman year.

“Some students gave me a hard time about not being an American. When people can’t speak the language well at first, they’re discriminated against,” he said, adding, “If you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know how it feels. You’re seen as just being a whiner.” 

Next, the Navy

Andrew HanWanting to go to college, and with no family funds, Han enlisted in the Navy, where he became an electronics technician on huge vessels that spent months at sea, frequently with as many as 4,000 personnel (Navy and Marines) aboard. In the military, Han found few Asian-Americans and few personnel who didn’t want “to just stay with their own kind.” Even though he completed electronics training faster than others, achieving higher rank came slowly. “I had to learn to speak up. There were times when (the) discrimination was quite depressing.”

Still, Han said going in the Navy was the best decision he’s ever made. Forcing himself to socialize with others, he said, helped him grow as a human being.

“One important improvement was my ability to interact with people from various backgrounds,” he said. “Before joining the Navy, I spent most of the time with people from my own ethnic background but rarely with others. The unique environment onboard a naval ship provided me with the opportunity to closely interact with people with different backgrounds.

“I felt uneasy at first but I soon began to enjoy their company. I also learned through first-hand experience that confronting real or possible racism bluntly or with hostility tends to exacerbate the situation. By communicating with hospitality and merely pointing out a problem, I managed to have a good working relationship with the people I worked with.”

A physician aboard one ship was so kind and professional that it helped influence Han to use his love for science to become a doctor. As a boy Han had fallen in love with colorful science experiments that fizzed, bubbled, and popped. “That doctor on the ship knew how to speak to people, how to respect them — he just wanted to help people,” Han recalled.

Lasting Impression

Two incidents Han witnessed in the Navy remain with him today.

Not having the proper diagnostic equipment, Han said, cost a fellow seaman his life from a ruptured aneurysm. “I wanted to become a doctor who really cares for his patients and provides the optimal care they deserve.”

When a fellow sailor, someone Han had known for two years, was crushed under a missile launcher aboard ship, Han was stunned. “It was shocking to realize that...even without active combat...nonadherence to basic safety precautions can cost lives,” he said. “The number one lesson I learned in the military is safety is paramount — and that includes in medicine.” 

Better safety systems, systemized safety protocols, Han believes, can result in fewer medical accidents. “You really have to deal with entire systems. If we can prevent it, we should do it.”

A true believer in the power of talk therapy (Han says he knows psychiatric treatment plans often stress medication), he hopes guided conversations can utilize what he’s learned in life to help others.

“I’d actually like to wean patients off medication as much as possible,” he said. "I know I have to find a way to get the time to do that.”W