The end of 2019’s summer quarter at Dongguk University, Los Angeles (DULA) marked the beginning of a new chapter in the university’s relationship with it’s sister campuses in South Korea. This is when the first DULA International Education Program took place. From the 19th to 27th of September, students and alumni from DULA, as well as licensed acupuncturists from across the United States, visited Dongguk University Ilsan Hospital to observe and learn how Western and Oriental medicine work together under one roof to provide the best possible care for patients.
Some background on the hospital for the unfamiliar; Dongguk University Ilsan Hospital opened its doors in 2005. Within its 28,000 sq meters of floor space it holds beds for 1,000 patients across 33 departments, 47 specialized clinics and 11 specialized centers as well as housing their Research Institute for Medical Sciences and Clinical Trial Center. It’s also the first hospital in the world to create a state-of-the-art digital medical information system which integrates Western and Oriental medicine.
The International Education Program allowed participants to observe treatments and participate in seminars related to the fields of Gynecology, Pediatrics, Internal Medicine, Rehabilitation, Neuropsychiatry, Ophtal- otorhinolaryngology and Sasang Constitutional medicine. Also included were two field trips; one to the Korean Institute of Oriental Medicine (a WHO Collaborating Center for Traditional Medicine) and Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine, which specializes in non-invasive treatment of spine and joint disorders. The program began with an introduction to some members of the hospital staff, including the doctors leading the specialties mentioned above, followed by a tour of the hospital. Each ward related to the specialties was visited as well as the herbal pharmacy where participants observed the production and packaging of custom herbal decoctions for patients. These decoctions are used both in the hospital for in-patients as well as given to out-patients to take home. The rest of the program consisted of participants following either interns or doctors to observe the treatments of patients in both in-patient and out-patient settings. Opportunities to sit down and discuss various approaches and treatment modalities regarding the various specialties were spaced throughout the program to gain a deeper understanding of the similarities and differences between the way patients are treated at Dongguk-Ilsan compared to how we treat here in the States.
One of the main differences noticed was witnessing the in-patient setting for Oriental Medicine. It was inspiring to see it alongside Western medicine under the same roof. Gone was the need to outsource lab tests or medical imaging. If the patient needed any blood work done or perhaps a CT scan performed for a more thorough diagnosis they could simply get it done then and there. Also of note was the extensive use of wet cupping for pain management. Half of the participants of the exchange program were students from California, where the legality of wet cupping has been unstable and isn’t something they are exposed to in such a capacity. The sheer volume of herbal decoctions and the timeliness at which they are created and dispensed was impressive, to say the least. Particularly at Jaseng Hospital, where they have an entire facility separate from the hospital, which decocts and ships about 1000 decoctions per day. It is not unusual for a patient to receive their herbal prescription within the same day of their hospital visit, delivered to their home. Visiting the Korean Institute of Oriental Medicine to view the research and development of the latest diagnostic tools including tongue imaging, pulse analysis and Sasang constitutional analysis machines gave a sense of modernity to an ancient medicine. As a student it’s easy to focus on the roots of this medicine, how old it is, perhaps even that it’s done growing. Experiencing this all helped show that not only is the medicine alive and well, it is still growing and evolving, adapting to our modern society and integrating with Western medicine just as Yin integrates with Yang.
As of this writing, students from various campuses of Dongguk University, South Korea (DUK) have arrived in Los Angeles to participate in the Exchange Program at DULA. There they will take classes and team up with student volunteers from DULA to work together and conduct a presentation on a topic (related to medicine) of their choosing. This exchange will ideally foster growth not just within the campuses of Dongguk University but also within the medical community as a whole. Hopefully the experiences gained by all parties will spread as students apply the lessons into their own practices once they graduate and earn their licenses.
My name is Harout Halajian. I’m currently studying at DULA and will be graduating this quarter (in March). During January of last year (2019) I had the pleasure being involved in this exchange program when students from DUK arrived to DULA. Over the course of several weeks I got to spend time with my peers from overseas both on and off campus. There were three students assigned to me and our group got to know each other about as well as the language barrier allowed us to (their English is MUCH better than my Korean). We ate together, saw some of LA and even went bowling with everyone just before they left to go back home. Later that year it was my turn and in September 10 of us headed to South Korea. I knew I was signing up to learn about this medicine but I ended up learning so much more.
Three of us arrived in Korea in the early hours of the morning. It was about 4 or 5am when we reached Ilsan and the offices to our residence wouldn’t be open for several hours. We had all of our luggage with us and weren’t about to haul it all around. Lucky for us there was a convenience store down the hall (yes, there was a convenience store on the second story of a building that was both business and residential). Our chaperone/dean/clinic supervisor, Dr. Yae Chang, spoke to the person behind the counter and they agreed we would keep all of our luggage in the convenience store until the office we were waiting for opened. Can you imagine doing that in LA? We thanked the man and said goodbye (I said goodbye to my luggage too) and decided to get some food and go sight-seeing. It was near 7am on a Sunday morning and there were still a few people out and about, remnants of a celebration for a Harvest Festival that took place that weekend. We sat down and had Korean BBQ for breakfast. Korean BBQ! At 7am! After filling our bellies with beef and pork (and a sprinkle of beer and soju) we decided to head to Seoul, about 20km (about 12.5 miles) away. We hopped on the subway and decided we’d check out Gyeongbokgung Palace. This is a massive palace in the heart of Seoul, which first opened in 1395. It’s a big tourist attraction and there are small shops that rent you traditional garb to wear around the palace which two of us did. Two white people walking around in traditional Korean garb in a very old palace, appropriating the culture with style. After a couple of hours we headed back to Ilsan to find that not only was our luggage still there but the gentleman we left it with even moved it into the residence office for us! This was the first of many positive experiences with the people of South Korea.
Over the course of the two weeks we spent there I got to visit the friends I’d made earlier in January. I bumped into one at the hospital, who had no idea I was in Korea (the message I’d sent weeks before never made it to her). Her face was priceless, absolutely shocked. We met up a few days later where she treated me to dinner (octopus!) and we got to catch up. My other two friends were a bit further away in a town called Gyeong-ju. A colleague I ended up taking the KTX (their high speed rail) to basically the other end of the country 296km (about 184 miles) away and spent the day with them. They took us to Bulguksa Temple, a beautiful temple from the 6th century which sits in the foothills of Mount Toham and still houses monks to this day. We drank water straight from the mountain, observed a service taking place and walked around just about all of the temple. They also took us to Tumuli Park where we saw the many burial mounds of rulers of the Silla dynasty, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea before they united We then made our way to Cheomseongdae, the oldest surviving astronomical observatory in Asia, constructed in the 7th century. Over the course of the day they treated us to lunch, coffee and sweets before we had to split. Before we headed back to the train station we visited Dongguk’s Gyeongju campus and walked around the halls of their Oriental Medicine building. I felt a pleasant feeling of connection and belonging walking in those halls, knowing that the next day they would be filled with our peers.
I was able to do some more sightseeing throughout our stay. On my way back from Gangnam where we visited Jaseng Hospital I took a detour and stopped by Itaewon, formerly where a US military base used to be and a mish mash of culture. It’s really a sight to see, especially at night when it comes alive. There’s a part with so many bars and restaurants and a night club all huddled together within a criss crossing of narrow alleyways and all types of cuisine, one of which was “American Chinese Food” which I found humorous. I met two Canadians just across our residence at the start of our second weekand we got to speaking, in English! I never thought I could miss a language so much. I have nothing against the Korean language, it’s quite lovely, but after having very little conversation in English for about a week I was starting to get a little stir-crazy. They told me about an ex-pat pub called the Whiskey Weasel and for the next week I spent almost every night there. It’s a wonderful pub that’s a bit like Cheers “where everybody knows your name”. The owner, Wonwoo, is delightfully hospitable and cooks some very tasty sandwiches and the regulars were exceptionally kind, friendly and made for some stimulating (and much needed) conversation. I’m happy to say we still keep in touch and now I have a few more friends in this world.
After the program was over I had about 2 days left in Korea. I had already booked an AirBnB at the Avenue of Youth in Myeong-dong, Seoul, a lively neighborhood with plenty to do. After settling in and resting a bit I found myself hiking up a nice chunk of mountain to get to Namsan Seoul Tower and spent a couple of hours there admiring the scenery. I headed back to Ilsan, spending entirely too much on a cab, which I later learned about (silver company cabs are for within Ilsan, orange company cabs are to travel to-from-within Seoul, the rest will gouge you like a rhino in heat). Spent one last night with my friends at the Whiskey Weasel. My last night was spent taking a creepy but fun tour called The Dark Side of Seoul where we walked around Seoul with a guide who had studied Korean history and took us to areas of, shall we say, less pleasant parts of Korean history. Ended my night having some very mediocre pizza at an English pub in Myeong-dong. Generally speaking, when in Korea, stick to Korean food. They do that very well. Non-Korean food…not so much, at least in my experience. The exception being at the Weasel where everything I tried was delicious. I fell asleep thinking of the absolutely stunning Norweigan girl that was on the tour and the way we locked eyes before going our separate ways, never to meet again. I’ll always remember you, Norway. All in all, it was an enlightening experience and in retrospect, even with it’s ups and downs, I loved every minute of it. Maybe not so much in the moment but I look fondly back at all the lessons learned and experiences gained. 10/10 would travel again.