Canadians’ stories: Doctor chronicles story of immigration to making history

OTTAWA – Retired Surgeon General Commodore Dr. Hans Jung remembers his first breath of Canadian air – it was cold. Very cold.

He still recalls the very date he stepped onto Canadian soil – Jan. 18, 1970. He and his family had just flown to Winnipeg from South Korea.

“I remember very distinctly because it left such a searing memory,” he told Global News.

From that initial breath to present day, Dr. Jung has become a celebrated Canadian who has broken down barriers, motivated by a dedication to serving his new country.

It all started when Jung’s father came to Canada for post-graduate work in mathematics. Jung and his family only intended to visit for a year, but his father decided it would be best for them not to return to post-war Korea. He wanted them to stay  – permanently.

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“Being an academic, you know education was first and foremost in his mind, and he said this is a wonderful place.  So he decided, well, we’ll stay.”

They had few possessions and only $200. Jung was a mere 11 years old.

“We didn’t come here for the purpose of immigrating, we actually had a home in Korea we just left everything behind.”

Jung couldn’t speak or understand a word of English or French. But his family values of determination, and hard work guided Jung as he excelled.

As a child, Jung heard the famous John F. Kennedy inaugural speech and that also was a guiding light for how he lives his life.

“Ask not what this country can do for you, but what you can do for this country,” Jung recited to Global News.

“It’s exactly the same concept you know. Don’t be a burden to your country, you should be a productive citizen,” he said.

Retired Surgeon General Commodore Dr. Hans Jung speaks about leaving South Korea for Canada at 11 years old and his history-making time leading the Canadian Forces Health Services Group. 

Once a physician, Jung joined the Canadian Forces to give back. He never planned on staying but enjoyed the challenges, commitment, and was proud of wearing the uniform.

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He rose through the ranks to become Surgeon General and the Commander of the Canadian Forces Health Services Group. He became the first visible minority to become a general officer in the forces.  The first and only visible minority in Canada to do so.

Heading the military’s health care

The job of a surgeon general and commander is vast.  Commodore Jung oversaw close to 6,300 civilian and military healthcare personnel and he was responsible for the medical teams deployed overseas on 13 missions, including Afghanistan and Haiti.

During his tenure, the CFHS team was responsible for care at the Role 3 Multinational Hospital in Kandahar.  Before the conflict even began, medics, nurses and doctors all honed their training, and Jung sought out the strengths of allies in the United Kingdom, Australia and the U.S.

The strategy worked.

“Very quickly, we proved ourselves to be the most effective field hospital in the history of warfare,” Jung said.

“If you were a coalition soldier and you were injured, and you came into our field hospital with a pulse, 97 per cent (of soldiers) were going to leave alive. And that was unheard of,” Jung said.

(Photo courtesy Dr. Jung)

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Col. Richard Pucci, the current director of health service personnel, worked alongside Jung for more than a decade.

He said Jung worked magic in his role, calling him the “leader of the orchestra” of a huge operation with many moving parts.

“Clearly his level of intelligence, his level of understanding of what Canada is all about is extremely important and thus he’s a great role model for both civilians and colleagues within the Canadian Forces as well,” Pucci said.

“It’s a big responsibility.”

Col. Richard Pucci, Director of Health Services Personnel at Canadian Forces Health Services Group Headquarters speaks about working with Retired Surgeon General and Commodore Dr. Hans Jung. 

As Surgeon General, he was responsible for comprehensive health care of military personnel, including rehabilitation and mental health programs.

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Changing the face of military health care

Under Jung’s watch, the Canadian Forces Health Services (CHFS) made great strides. In addition to his work with the forces, Jung has been dubbed the “grandfather” of the physician assistants program in Canada.

Physician assistants conduct physical exams, order and interpret tests and diagnose and treat, all under the direction of a doctor.

The role originated in the military and Jung worked to have it accredited across the country. Now, plenty of post-secondary schools offer this medical training.

He worked to bring attention to the needs of soldiers returning to Canada, both mentally and physically.

His commitment to the forces led to the creation of a national network of researchers examining the health of veterans and their specific needs.

Sticking to his values, even in retirement

After 31 years of service, Jung is retired and spending time with his wife and two daughters. He’s earned it.

“Military is a bit of a nomadic life and you move around and that is stressful, but at the same time it is extremely challenging and enriching because you’re experiencing different cultures and different areas,” he said.

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But Canada is distinct in his mind.

“It’s something that you feel,” he said.

“There’s something about Canada that I really can’t put to words, but it is home and you feel safe, you feel comfortable,” he said.

(Photo courtesy Dr. Jung)

Jung has often been asked to speak at citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. His message to new Canadians is to make the most of the opportunities they have in front of them – it’s the reason why they immigrated here, after all.

“It’s up to you to really espouse and further the very values of Canada that allowed you to come to Canada and become Canadians,” he explained.

“It’s your duty to make sure that the very values that allowed you to be here are actually strengthened, protected and furthered.”

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Even in retirement, Jung is steadfast in living according to his advice.

Jung is still giving back: he started a practice to treat veterans and continues to work on their behalf.

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