President Obama’s surprise choice to head the World Bank is a physician and a major figure in the global health world.

Jim Yong Kim has served as Dartmouth College’s president for the past three years, but has devoted much of his life to improving health outcomes in the developing world. Obama highlighted Kim’s health development background as major factors in his nomination.

Along with Paul Farmer and others, Kim co-founded Partners in Health, an international health and social justice organization. He served as Director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS department, where he scaled up treatment, prevention, and care programs in developing countries. He has also worked on international tuberculosis policy.

“Dr. Kim has been a strong supporter of global public health,” said Tarik Jasaveric, a spokesman for the World Health Organization. “At WHO, Dr. Kim was instrumental in creating and implementing the 3 by 5 Initiative, which saw millions of people in the developing world gain access to anti-retroviral Therapy for HIV for the first time.”

The initiative, launched in 2003, sought to treat 3 million new patients infected by the disease by 2005. It reached its goal in 2007, The Washington Post reported. In 2006, he was named as one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” for his work on that campaign and his efforts combating drug-resistant tuberculosis in Peru.

Kim also co-founded the Global Health Delivery Project, a joint initiative designed to improve public health in disadvantaged populations by “systematizing the study of global health delivery” and “rapidly disseminating knowledge to practitioners.”

While his efforts in public health are widely lauded, his tenure as Dartmouth president has been controversial. In his three years at Dartmouth, Kim has faced budget challenges and has had his share of critics in the university’s student body, according to an March 2011 column from the student paper, The Dartmouth.

Some students criticize what they say is his refusal to release the college’s budget, failure to pursue a safety report of Dartmouth’s river docks, and inability to address an ongoing hazing scandal at the school.

When Kim became president of Dartmouth in March 2009, he was the first Asian American to assume the top job at an Ivy League institution. Kim, 52, was born in Seoul and moved to the United States at the age of 5, according to his biography on Dartmouth’s Web site. He spent most of his childhood in Iowa. His father taught dentistry at the University of Iowa, where his mother also earned her Ph.D. in philosophy.

In a 2009 interview with the university, called his childhood “deeply American,” mentioning that he didn’t learn how to speak Korean until he was in graduate school. He said he now speaks three languages: Korean, Spanish and English.

He also said that he has been a lifelong athlete. Kim was the quarterback of his high school football team, and also played varsity basketball and golf.

Kim’s wife, Dr. Younsook Lim, is a pediatrician at the Children’s Hospital in Boston, and has worked on improving health care services for children in Africa. The couple has two sons, and the family currently lives in Hanover, N.H.