5 Things To Know About Doctor’s Visits In Korea

Korea’s trees are beginning to become full with lush green leaves again, flowers have bloomed and happily line every sidewalk, and the long days have a bright, happy luster that was missing only a few weeks ago. All of these changes can only mean one thing, spring is here! As happy as the news that the bleak Korean winter is over, it always comes with the dreaded knowledge that allergies are only a tissue’s reach away.

Medical Drugs for Pharmacy Health Shop of Medicine

Allergies mean runny noses, sore throats, and reluctant trips to the doctor’s office. As for myself, I’ve never been one to go to the doctor. In fact, I have a paralyzing fear of needles and shots, which trickles into a fear of seeing a doctor in the off chance that the doc might give me a shot just for his own amusement. (I know some of you doctors do it, don’t lie! You love to watch your patients squirm!) When I came down with my first bout of sickness in Korea, not only was I adamant about avoiding the doctor’s office at all costs, but the terror welling up inside me was only exacerbated by the fact that I don’t speak the Korean language. How could I possibly have begged for my life if the doctor decided to give me a shot when I can’t speak a lick of Korean? The answer is I couldn’t…and I got the damn shot. A drippy nose and raspy throat that prevented me from teaching forced me to wander into the torture chamber known as “the doctor’s office”, and along with the experience came a new-found wealth of knowledge that I’m here to share with you in hopes that your first trip won’t be as confusing and scary as mine.

1. Go To The Hospital

The first time a co-worker looked at my pale face and red, puffy eyes and said in a concerned tone that I needed to go to the hospital, I freaked out. “Hospital?! Do I look that bad?” I’m sure the panic that flashed across my face was all my co-worker needed to see to understand that further explanation about her suggestion was needed for the worried foreigner. In a soft motherly tone she explained to me that Koreans call the doctor’s office a hospital. As the vision of myself riding to a hospital in a noisy ambulance dissipated, my cheeks flushed with embarrassment and I forced all the water in my eyes to go back into their tear ducts. Maybe it was the fact that I was ill, or maybe I’m just a hyperbole queen, but I felt silly for overreacting and assuming I was about to be shipped off to the emergency room. After having that small vocabulary confusion cleared up, I was ready to leave work early and take my first visit to a “hospital” in Korea.

2. It’s Incredibly Inexpensive

My health insurance plan as a first year teacher in America was’t the greatest. There were times when I used the excuse of exorbitant prices to hide my childish fear of the doctor’s office, and it was a darn good excuse too. In South Korea, that excuse is about as useful as US dollar in a Korean open market. A trip to the doctor here costs less than a happy meal at McDonalds. My walk in consisted of a check up by the doctor, a shot, and an hour of a physical therapy treatment to help my achy muscles. After all my treatments, I dragged my feet back to the check-in desk worrying about how much I’d have to shell out after such a lengthy visit. The final cost for a check-up, shot, and treatment? A whopping W6,000 (roughly 6.00 USD). Add in the W3,00 for the three days worth of antibiotics I was prescribed, and the grand total for my day at the doctor’s was a whopping W9,000 (9.00 USD). Pennies compared to what I would have spent in America.

3. Bring Your ARC Card

I have a terrible habit of forgetting my ARC card at home when I make my daily treks into the city, but, luckily, I remembered to snatch up my ARC card on my trip to the hospital. This accidental grab worked well in my favor since the nurse at the check-in desk needed my ARC to sign me in. This is actually quite nice because the doctor was able to start a record of my illnesses and visits. Now, when I visit the hospital the doctor will ask if I’m visiting for the same reason as last time. Be sure to always take your ARC card with you, and it’s really good practice to keep with you at all times, anyway. You never know when you might need to show identification.

4. Shots Are Given In The Rear

Maybe I’m just strange, but I haven’t been given a shot in my tush since I was a kid. Since I was old enough to be embarrassed about crying when I’m about to receive a shot, I’ve always gotten injections in my arms. Korea tends to prefer to give shots in the tush. My nurse was rather amused when she asked me to remove my pants and I yanked my Levis well below the area she actually needed for the shot.

An entirely exposed derrière isn’t necessary? Oops. I’ll just pull these a little higher then.

When I told a Korean friend about the embarrassing incident she casually asked me why I didn’t ask for the shot in my arm. Well, I didn’t know that was an option. Dear reader, now you know. If you’re not comfortable with backside shots, you can ask for them in your arm. Aren’t I sweet for telling you?

5. Medicine Is Not Labeled In English

Medicine isn’t labeled in English. After my visit to the pharmacy, I walked away with a goodie bag full of pink and yellow pills I was supposed to take three times a day. What were they? I have no idea…I still don’t. I showed friends who can read Korean, and they informed me I was taking antibiotics. I hadn’t realized I could go to any pharmacy to get my medicine, so I went to the pharmacy attached to the hospital. No one at my pharmacy spoke English so I never learned what I was taking. However, any pharmacy can take your prescription, so my advice is to try and find a pharmacist who speaks English if your doctor wasn’t able to explain what your prescription is for. Pharmacies are nearly on every street corner in Korea, so it shouldn’t be too difficult a task.

For more information on health care in Korea, click here.

Although I hope you never have to use these tips, it is always better to be well informed and prepared. If you ever feel ill during your stay in Korea, I hope you can remember this article and feel more comfortable visiting a Korean hospital. Don’t be stubborn to go like I was at first. It really isn’t a terrible experience at all, and now I’m happy I went because I’ve never been healthier. So, here’s to your health, dear traveler! 

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2 Comments
  1. Hey!
    Good advice for those who are struggling. I’ve sadly seen way too many doctors during my
    last 10 months here in Korea. Something you had not mentioned is that almost every actual hospital has a foreign center with translators. Mine happens to be very good center since I live within a short distance of an American base (helpful for us Teachers!). Either way both hospitals I visit have great foreign centers and they’ll be glad to help and explain what the medications are. Also with a Korean keyboard (on the phone or wherever) there is a website so if you google the Korean name it will search and this website will give it to you in English! Then just use webmd or something to learn about what it’s for, side effects, etc. Just an extra helpful hint! Thanks for writing this article.

    • Hi Jenni! So sorry to hear you’ve had a bit of a sick patch in Korea! Hopefully you’re all better now! I actually didn’t know that tidbit about foreign centers in real hospitals! That’s some really helpful advice! Thanks so much for sharing it with us!
      Judith Villarreal
      chasingglitter.com

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