10-21-2012 18:23
Dr. Lee defies norms

Lee Gil-ya
By Kim Da-ye

Gachon University President Lee Gil-ya has an extraordinary success story.

Even as the subject person of our ¡°Breaking glass ceiling¡± series this week, Lee¡¯s life story reads as if she were destined to overcome any barriers, the gender divide included.

Born in 1932 as the only daughter of a rural family in North Jeolla Province, she went to the medical school at Seoul National University at a time when women hardly pursued higher education and the Korean War (1950-53) was at its height.

She was a renowned gynecologist in Incheon and later put her entire wealth into building and running non-profit hospitals and universities.

In March, she completed a grand project of merging four institutions into one, Gachon University, which is now the third largest in the Seoul Metropolitan Area by number of students.

Lee is constantly questioned how she did it. She answers she has always had dreams and strived to reach them. Specifically, she advises people to sleep no more than four hours; stay focused; set clear goals; and have a dream.

More importantly, she wasn¡¯t concerned about the obstacles in reaching her goal.

¡°I never thought there was a glass ceiling in the medical and educational fields. I never thought I couldn¡¯t make it,¡± Lee said in an interview with The Korea Times.

That sets her apart from the ordinary.

How many of us have dreams without doubts? How many of us have dreams after passing our youth, other than to get promoted or make more money? How many of us genuinely work toward our dreams?

Lee said, ¡°The internal glass ceiling in oneself is more dangerous than the external one. If you limit yourself, reasoning and saying, ¡®Because I am a woman¡¯ or ¡®Because I do not come from a wealthy family,¡¯ that¡¯s the real glass ceiling.¡±

Many of Lee¡¯s achievements came in her 70s. The Neuroscience Research Institute opened in 2006, and the Lee Gil Ya Cancer and Diabetes Institute in 2008. Her latest goal is helping Gachon University become among Korea¡¯s top 10 private schools by 2020.

How many of us will still be dreaming at the age of 80?