KENNY LEUNG: BOLDLY PURSUING CHANGE FOR THE GOOD OF OTHERS

Upon first meeting Kenny Leung, one will quickly notice his deep joy and attentiveness to the people around him. Kenny is equipped with a bright mind and strong ability to develop solutions to the inefficiencies he observes. But the driving force in Kenny’s life is his passion for serving others, and this value has become a catalyst for significant change in his life.

Kenny was born in Hong Kong, attended primary school in Sydney, Australia, moved back to Hong Kong for middle school, and transitioned to California for high school and college. When Kenny moved to the United States, he had the opportunity to skip a grade, leading Kenny to graduate high school at age 16. Eager to begin his career, Kenny graduated from college in just three years at the young age of 19 with a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of California at Berkeley, beginning his work as a software engineer at Microsoft.

Kenny stepped into the path he imagined for himself, working a stable job in Seattle where he committed his daily efforts toward improving the performance and enabling a more personalized user experience of Microsoft Office. However, three years into this career, he began to wonder what kind of impact he was making on others, and decided to take small steps toward discovering if a career in health might achieve the impact he was seeking. While continuing his work at Microsoft, Kenny pursued a master’s degree in medical engineering at the University of Washington, attending night classes after work. A year into the program, Kenny transitioned his career to a Microsoft spin-off company creating healthcare software.

A life dedicated to serving others

Toward the end of graduate school, Kenny married his now wife, Julie, and at the time assumed that he would be content in a career in healthcare software. However, the two are passionate about volunteer work, and while Kenny invested his spare time serving in soup kitchens and training as a nursing assistant at a long-term care unit, his greater desire to be with people emerged. It was here that Kenny came to terms with his growing interest in becoming a physician.

Kenny and Julie decided they would go all-in toward Kenny’s desire to pursue his medical degree, prompting him to move to Philadelphia to work toward a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program at the University of Pennsylvania, which would equip him with the courses he needed for medical school. To pay for tuition, they sold their house, put their plans to have children on hold, and the two spent the year apart while Kenny completed the program on the east coast and Julie stayed in Seattle. While the program could take up to two years, Kenny once again expedited the experience, and completed the program within one year. “My wife said, ‘This is better for the world for you to do this.’ I’m really forever grateful for her,” Kenny shared.

Kenny with his wife, Julie, at Curtis Orchard in Champaign.

After completing the program, they chose to spend two additional years working in order to save for medical school. A highlight for Kenny during this time was working for the cardiology department at Virginia Mason hospital, where he worked to improve documentation software for electrophysiologists. After work each day, he would volunteer at the hospital on the cardiac and surgery floors, asking patients if they would like someone to talk with. He recalls a particularly rewarding experience with a patient experiencing acute anxiety during her treatments, and through their discussions, he was able to help relieve stress and tension for both her and her family.

“Being able to provide that comfort to a patient made me feel really blessed,” Kenny recalls.

Kenny working as a volunteer companion at Virginia Mason hospital in Seattle.

While Kenny nurtured his desire to care for people, he also continued cultivating his engineering skills. In Kenny’s spare time, he applied his interest in tinkering with components and circuit design to build his own ECG device. “I had hoped that more clinics had access to ECGs, but that’s not the case, as they cost $2000 or more just for one device. So I set out to create a low-cost, sub-$100 clinical grade ECG for clinics to use,” said Kenny.

The ECG prototype that Kenny developed before medical school.

Finally, it was time to pursue medical school, and Kenny found that Carle Illinois satisfied his interest of combining his interest in engineering and medicine.

“Carle Illinois was my top choice. Being able to continue to innovate, and see problems and have the resources to solve those issues – to create products, to create software, and to better improve processes – that was a big selling point for me,” Kenny said.

Kenny fondly recalls the moment when his hard-worked for dream became a reality. “My wife and I were in shock when we found out I was admitted to Carle Illinois. The whole week after that was pure bliss,” Kenny recalled.

Now at Carle Illinois, Kenny was elected by his peers to be Carle Illinois’ first president of the student government, where he serves his fellow classmates and works with Carle and Carle Illinois administration to continue to build the world’s first engineering-based medical school from the ground up. Kenny and his wife also continue their passion for volunteering, and they are making an impact on the Champaign-Urbana community by serving on Saturdays at the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen.

In Kenny’s daily work, he draws inspiration from his classmates, where he enjoys opportunities to problem solve and innovate together. His favorite experience at Carle Illinois so far has been participating in the Health Mirror Make-a-thon. “To see other students come up with ideas that are really feasible, that was one of my best experiences here so far,” Kenny said.

Kenny with some of his classmates during an engineering lab.

“To see other students come up with ideas that are really feasible, that was one of my best experiences here so far.”

He also fondly recalls an experience through the engineering thread of the curriculum where Dr. Coiado split the class into groups and tasked them with improving an oximeter. By the end of the class, Kenny was amazed at his classmates’ creativity, offering a range of solutions that could improve patient outcomes and increase resources for healthcare providers.

“I see a lot of inefficiencies in hospital systems, where having an engineering background, you can step into a situation and see, “Maybe this can be improved with a better user-centered design,” said Kenny. “I think the engineering skills where you find a problem and you try to solve it are directly applicable to medicine.”

The generosity of people like you made it possible for Kenny and his classmates to attend Carle Illinois with scholarships.