All parents hope for a successful and promising future for their children. For Paul Baek, it was his parents dream for him and his brother to pursue a career in medicine, he says.
However, Baek had a different future in mind.
“I wanted to be a Navy nuclear submarine officer,” Baek says. “That was kind of my dream.”
He studied electrical engineering at the University of Washington where his roommate would have a profound impact on his career path.
“My roommate was going into medicine and said, ‘You should apply,’ so I did,” Baek says. “Then I ended up in medical school in Milwaukee. I had no idea I wanted to go into medicine.”
Long story short – sometimes parents know best.
It was Baek’s time spent in medical school at the Medical College of Wisconsin when he discovered what he would specialize in.
“We had two-week rotations of subspecialties,” Baek says. “And my first rotation was pediatrics which I didn’t enjoy. My second rotation was neurosurgery and I thought that was great. It was very challenging.”
It was the technical skill that neurosurgery requires and the ability to physically help others that attracted Baek to neurosurgery, he says.
After medical school, Baek completed his residency at the Medical College of Wisconsin Affiliated Hospitals.
Although Baek’s true desire growing up was to join the Navy, his decision to pursue a career in medicine is what made that dream come true.
Baek, a member of the Medical Corps, was called to duty to fulfill a scholarship he had received from the Navy.
“In the Navy I was basically a neurosurgeon in San Diego,” he says. “So, what I did was what most practicing neurosurgeons did.”
“I have a lot of respect for Navy people. A lot of 18, 19-year-old kids, that work in the Navy manning these ships are getting paid very little. From the three years that I was in the military, the amount of work these kids put in to defend their country – I think there’s a lot of people in the United States who don’t realize that. They get paid very little and they are very structured and they don’t complain about anything. It’s amazing, what these 18, 19-year-old kids do working these ships and they work like a dog.”
Baek served his last year in the Medical Corps in 1998. Afterwards, he began practicing as a neurosurgeon with BayCare Clinic Neurological Surgeons.
Baek says the most gratifying part about being a neurosurgeon is helping patients feel better.
“When patients come back and say, ‘hey I feel much better,’ or say, ‘you’ve helped me get back to the road of recovery,’ I think the most satisfying thing about most surgeries is that you are able to directly help them. That’s what I like about it, that’s what satisfies me.”
Outside of work, Baek enjoys fly fishing and traveling overseas with his family. He and his family have traveled to Berlin, Germany; Tokyo, Japan; and Korea.
However, Baek is no amateur traveler. He’s been traveling since a young age.
“Our family moved from Korea in the mid-70s and I grew up in the state of Washington,” he says. “I was 12-years-old when we immigrated.”
Baek an experienced traveler, is also an experienced specialist who finds neurosurgery ‘rewarding,’ he says.