Dr. Yeo In-seok, professor of history of medicine at Yonsei University College of Medicine, graduated from Yonsei University College of Medicine and obtained master’s and Ph. D. degrees at the same university, followed by Ph.D. degree in philosophy at Paris Diderot University (Paris 4). If there is something special to Professor Yeo, it is that he is studying humanistic medicine, not practicing clinical medicine such as examining and treating patients as a doctor. He also teaches students history and philosophy of medicine. The main interest of Professor Yeo who was appointed at Yonsei University in 2000 includes modern and contemporary history of medicine in Korea, ancient history of Western medicine and medical philosophy. Professor Yeo who has been only walking along the path of history of medicine and medical philosophy said regarding the launch of the Yonsei Medical Center in 1962, “Korea has been transformed to a country giving help from a country in need of help. One of such representative cases is the Yonsei Medical Center. I hope that Yonsei Medical Center can serve as a case of a successful model while doing missionary work abroad, and give a lot of help to the places where it is needed.” The meaning in these words also represents a mindset as a member of the Yonsei Medical Center. He emphasizes that history may not be important to become a doctor but a doctor who knows history is clearly different from the one who doesn’t know. WikiLeaks Korea met Professor Yeo and discussed the comprehensive history of the Yonsei Medical Center.
- On April 10, 1885, Jejungwon, the first modern Western hospital in Korea was opened. Please explain its historic meaning.
“Jejungwon is the first Wetsern style hospital in Korea. Actually, there was Jesaeng Hospital established in Busan in 1876, which was in fact earlier physically than Jejungwon. However, because that hospital was established for Japanese residents, it is not said to be the first Western style hospital in the history of Korea, In contrast, Jejungwon has large significance in that it was established for Korean people. Jejungwon is the result of a joint effort between the Joseon government and the missions. The Joseon government thought that it should accept the Western culture and systems actively in the process of enlightenment after the opening of the ports, while the missions needed the ways to propagation through education or medicine under the circumstances where open missionary activities were impossible in Joseon at the time. Because these mutual demands were matched, a hospital in the form of collaboration could start safely. Korean people also received a lot of help from Western medicine through Jejungwon. Western medicine is different from Oriental medicine in that it has surgical operation and treatment. The first year report of Jejungwon tells us that the most common disease patients were suffering from was malaria, and a significant number of them could be treated through a specific drug called quinine. In this context, the people of Joseon got much help from Western medicine introduced through Jejungwon during the early days.”
- What is the reason that Western medicine needed to be introduced in Korea?
“As Joseon opened its ports, it thought it would need modernization, which was actually inevitable under the circumstances where social modernization was being carried out all over the world. Therefore, while Joseon promoted the whole society’s modernization, it was inevitable to accept Western medicine. At the time, the disease the people of Joseon were suffering from most was infectious disease, and there was no specific treatment for this disease. In fact, with direct treatment aside, infectious disease could be prevented through good hygiene, making clean environment. However, before Western medicine was adopted, such a notion of hygiene had not been set, which caused a lot of trouble. Many of patients with trauma died not because of worsening of the wound, but because of infection of the wound due to bad hygiene. Such a problem was improved with the adoption of Western medicine. As an exemplary case, there was a major cholera outbreak in 1895, and the government appointed Avison, then director of Jejungwon, as the head of quarantine. He was entrusted the whole quarantine activity against the cholera endemic. That position is equivalent to today’s head of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Actually, cholera was prevalent during the 19th century before the introduction of Western medicine, but because the Joseon government did not know the cause, what it could do was just dispatching the officials to the affected region and having an ancestral rite, which had been the official quarantine measures. However, Avison carried out the quarantine activities based on Western medicine, which were very effective.”
- Yonsei Medical Center opened the Sinchon era in 1962.
“The 1960s was a period not long after the Korean War. Severance Hospital had been located in front of the Seoul Station, and because it was an important facility, it was attacked intensively during the Korean War. So, only ruined walls remained there. Even though the restoration of Severance was planned, its location became much narrower, and divided due to the new city plan, which created a new road Toegye-ro cutting the middle. Although limited restoration was carried out at the original location, it was difficult to proceed, so a new hospital was built with the support of the Eighth US Army. It has become a case of proposing a new healthcare model to have built a new hospital with the latest facilities on the large land of Sinchon in the middle of the process where the city was expanded in the western direction at the time. People were also surprised at the unfamiliar Western style building structure. Its size was the largest in East Asia. It was built on a so-called ‘masterplan’. Before then, at Severance Hospital in front of the Seoul Station, a building was built and another built over and over, if money was given. Without a masterplan, a building that could function as necessary for a given situation was built. However, when Severance Hospital came to Sinchon, there was a masterplan from the beginning, and buildings such as schools, hospitals and dormitories were constructed under such a plan related to healthcare. This was a difference from the previous hospital, and the people who built the hospital also kept this point in mind.”
- Who have made a major contribution to the establishment of Yonsei Medical Center as of today?
“Jejungwon could be opened thanks to Allen’s proposal for building of a hospital to the Joseon government. So, Allen is the first.
However, Allen did not work for a long time in Jejungwon. After he worked there for 2- 3 years, he became a diplomat. Next is Avison. He is the real person behind the establishment of Severance Hospital, and at the same time, grew the hospital and educated protégés. In addition, he established a firm basis, on which Severance Hospital could develop to not only as a hospital but also as a health care and educational institution. Further, he trained Korean successors to develop the medical school constantly with an opinion that Koreans should be in charge because missionaries could not stay long. After liberation, Yonsei union played an important role. Dean Kim Myung-sun did such a thing, and even before or after that, he actually contributed a lot to the school. Then, in the process of creating the Sinchon campus, Weiss served as the chair of the architecture from the beginning, which was not easy. He had to get help from various places, and there were many difficulties along the way, such as writing thousands of letters for help, but he overcame them all to be able to create the Sinchon Medical Center. Since then, many people have worked hard in their own areas to make what it is today.”
- How has medical education in Korea developed?
“Jejungwon was founded in 1885, and from the following year, a medical school was established and started to train students, but it was not successful. It means that none of the trainees became a doctor. After that, Avison came and took over Jejungwon again, starting medical education. At the time, training was conducted in a form of apprenticeship, but there were only two or three doctors working together, so it was difficult to do it systematically. Around the same time, the government also established a medical school, but it was difficult to call it a proper medical education because classes were conducted only in the classroom without hospital training. Then, it gradually settled down, and in the case of Severance, Avison continued to unite medical personnel at that time, and accepted missionary doctors from each denomination in Korea to increase its size. Accordingly, major education in each area was made possible. In other words, Avison made Severance an allied organization. After that, the government established a medical school of the Japanese Governor-General, and created what is called specialized school law between 1915 and 1916 for a vocational school system, which was the highest-tier school in Korea, although it did not grant college degrees. From this, Kyungsung Medical School and Severance Union Medical College were started as specialized schools. That was the first form of institutionalization.”
- Please suggest a direction for the Yonsei Medical Center, which remembers history.
“There are two directions. First, because it started as a missionary medical institution, missionary work is not just a means to make Christians, but a mission to spread Christian love through medical care like a 'catchphrase'. Second, it is not just a missionary institution, but also plays a role as the one that leads Korea's health care. You don't need to know history to become a doctor. It's certainly not in the test either. However, just as Koreans who know the history and those who do not know the history look the same on the outside, but they are certainly different, the same goes for the case with doctors. In the process of becoming a doctor, doctors who know the history of medicine and what process medicine has gone through are different from doctors who do not know such things. In such a sense, it is important to learn history. And there is one more thing. If you look at the history of medicine in the past, there are old theories that cannot be imagined now, and you may ask why they learn them? However, what we are studying now may become out-of-date in the distant future. For now, that may be the best, but it's not always right. So, we can see from history that a humble attitude toward learning is necessary.”
[WIKI KOREA=Kim Sun, Reporter]