As a pediatric dentist, personal trainer, almost K-Pop star (he denies it), and successful YouTuber with over 100,000 subscribers on his channel “J-Bro,” some may wonder how Dr. John Yoo juggles his time. “I think I’m incredibly lucky to be able to compartmentalize my day. I’m not doing 16 hours of dentistry or any one thing, or else I would burn out. I want to do dentistry, I enjoy personal training, and I love making videos. Yes, there are days I do get exhausted, but these are all my passions and I feel so blessed to be able to call them work,” he said.
The dream to become a dentist did not solidify until John’s senior year at Duke University. After working on a research project with a renowned research physician Dr. Kim, he was asked a simple question, “Why do you want to go into medicine?” John froze. “I didn’t have a particularly convincing response to that. I spent my whole life thinking that I was going to be a MD and I couldn’t answer this question with conviction. Dr. Kim saw me struggling with that response and said, ‘John, that’s normal. Take some time off to explore your other interests.” Dr. Kim prescribed him precious time-off from his research project, that ended up being some of the most critical months of exploration. John fell on one of his oldest passions: singing.
Growing up, John was drawn to music in a very musically driven household. His mom, a pianist, singer, guitarist, and schoolteacher, taught him how to sing at a very young age, and John learned to embrace the stage spotlight. By high school, he was ranked one of the top classical singers in NJ, and received numerous accolades for classical singing. From there, he continued to sing in college, and formed a Korean band at Duke called the Seoul Singers, covering pop songs and Koran ballads, while the start of the K-wave was happening. “There were nights I spent recording all night and not getting tired of it one bit. I thought, what if I could combine this passion I have for the arts with a career in healthcare?” As an attempt to combine the two, he shadowed music therapists at a psychiatric ward in North Carolina, but didn’t feel the same personal fulfillment he got while in the pediatric oncology wards. After shadowing a pediatric dentist (Dr. Hill) one day, his life was decided. He took out his journal where he had been writing out his failures and a-ha moments; he turned to a new page, wrote down the date, and jotted “I think I figured it out.”
Over the next 4 months, John witnessed meaningful interactions Dr. Hill had with his patients, the autonomy of running his own practice, and most saliently, the ability to take two weeks off a year to treat underserved children in Honduras with his staff. “I thought that was the perfect balance of entrepreneurship, healthcare, and philanthropy.” Before college, John and his father looked forward to spending time together on international volunteer trips, with his first being in Brazil. So when John took his first dental missionary trip to Panama in college, he was hooked. “My parents, being very avid Christians and big proponents of helping the community, always felt like we could and should do more for others. I think seeing that trickled down into what I wanted my life to be like as well. Ultimately, when I’m on my deathbed, I want to be able to say, ‘Did I leave the world a little bit better of a place than when I had started?” I think if I can answer that with confidence, I will have lived with no regrets.
Empowered and motivated to keep helping those in need, he knew that being able to use his efforts to help those in need was his driving factor. He went on 3 more dental mission trips to Cambodia and Jamaica while in dental school and in residency. “The single biggest fulfillment I get is when I get to interact with the population that I see as particularly vulnerable. I thought, what population do I want to work with and do I see the most reward in treating. And it was, hands down for me, kids. They have a limited understanding of what’s happening. But with a little more effort, I can hopefully provide treatment in a way that can be fun. “I can absolutely relate to a child’s dental fear – I had severe early childhood caries and I underwent multiple treatments at a tender age. A dentist and his/her team has the ability to make the experience better.”
In November 2020, John and his soon to be dental partners, all Columbia Dental doctors, decided to pull the trigger and open a pediatric dental and orthodontic clinic together in Fort Lee, New Jersey called Beam City Dental. Just a few months later, they are undergoing construction next door to an H Mart, a quintessential stop for any Asian dish needs. Fort Lee and Palisades Park — or Pal Park, as any red-blooded, bagel-eating Jerseyian will call it — are a mere 10 minutes across the Hudson River from the predominantly Spanish-speaking neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. With over half of Pal Park’s and Fort Lee’s residents of Korean ancestry, it is a hub and Mecca for the bridge and tunnel crowd. “Those places were the only things that my parents and I had, as like, a remnant of our life in Korea. We would spend weekends in Fort Lee and my mom would feel most comfortable there, since she could use her native language. I would spend Saturday mornings and afternoons at an academy there learning Korean. Fort Lee has always been like a second home away from home and to be setting up our clinic there, actually excited my parents almost more than anything. It still feels kind of surreal.”
When John and his family moved to the United States when he was 4 years old, the plan was for his family to move back to Korea after his father’s 5 year work visa ended. But when he turned 9 years old, John and his brother did not want to give up the life that they knew. “Imagine leaving a country at 9 years old. I was American by that point – I made friends here, and even though I looked like none of my friends in my predominantly non-Asian neighborhood, I would’ve done anything to stay.” His parents listened, and his mother remained in NJ while his father worked in Korea and eventually in Brazil, without knowing when he would return. He finally returned permanently on John’s high school graduation day, where he proudly gave the Salutatorian speech. “That was the happiest day of my life, seeing my parents back together in the same house. Looking back now, I feel incredibly grateful and also so painfully sad for what they did to give my old brother and me a chance at an American education. I was lucky to have my brother point out to me at a young age the immensity of their sacrifice. If at any moment I felt unmotivated or lazy, my older brother would say, “‘Do you realize what they’re doing for us right now? Study hard. Make their sacrifice worthwhile.’ It wasn’t a guilt trip, it was more of an encouragement, and I’ve internalized that to now just live each day to the fullest. Without a doubt, my family has and always will mean the world to me.”
John prescribes to the idea that immigrants are amongst the hardest working people he knows. “I think the immigrant story is something that truly inspires people to work hard and achieve their goals, no matter what the circumstances. I strongly believe there’s priceless value in placing your satisfaction off of your efforts, not only your outcomes. That’s the one thing that you can control. It’s the mindset, the effort you put in, that you can control. Don’t think about the results immediately. Don’t think about how much money, how much gain. If you’re putting in one hundred percent in the right direction and you’re moving forward, then you’ve tried your best, and hopefully results will follow.
“For me, every chance that I get to work or do something, I don’t see it as an obligation even if it is- I see it as a chance for me to work hard and make something of it. I try to be grateful for what I have and the opportunities afforded.” This gratitude mindset is what John believes both immigrants and non-immigrants alike in reaching their potentials and pursuing their dreams. Final statements from John: “One life. Make it extraordinary. You can do what your mind allows.”