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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Going to the Doctor

Going to the doctor can be a worrying trip no matter where you are, but when you’re in a foreign culture, where everyone speaks a different language, it can be even more frightening. Here are a few of the hospitals that have better service for English speakers, and some tips on how the medical culture may be different from your home country.

For women’s health or pregnancy, try Boram Hospital or Frau Medi  in Samsandong, Ulsan University Hospital or Rosimedi in Donggu, or Miz Hospital in Samhodong (near Mugeodong).These hospitals rate well with foreigners in terms of doctors who speak English, and some have more modernized practices regarding labour and delivery (please see the linked article above for more detail). It can be difficult to find a female obstetrician-gynocologist, though, if that’s your preference.

doctor with baby

For general health issues, Ulsan University Hospital in Donggu is an excellent facility. They have a special receptionist for helping foreigners, and most of the doctors speak English well. They also have a wide range of specialists, and a 24-hour emergency room.

Good Morning Hospital in Daldong,   and Ulsan Hospital in Sinjeongdong both do the “health check” required by immigration for certain visas, and are good hospitals for general complaints. Good Samjeong Hospital near Mugeodong, and Dong Gang Hospital in Taehwadong also have good service, and both have 24-hour emergency rooms, should you need care in the wee-hours of the night. These above-mentioned facilities are some of the larger, more well-known hospitals in the city.

Overall, the medical culture here can be a bit different from what you may be used to at home. For instance, the nurse’s job is only to assist the doctor with medical treatment, and they do not help patients care for themselves. Many Koreans will stay in the hospital with their sick family member to help feed and bathe them, or help them get to the bathroom. If you need to be in the hospital for a longer procedure, be sure to have friends who can come visit you (there are no set visiting hours, which is great) and perhaps bring you food. Hospital food is notoriously bad anywhere, but endless seaweed soup or bland rice porridge can be trying even for those who love the stuff (Ulsan University allows foreign patients to order from the Hyundai Hotel restaurant next door, but the meals are restaurant prices, which can become expensive if you’re in hospital for more than a day or so).

Sure, it looks good now.

Sure, it looks good now.

Also, a doctor here is not used to being questioned. Generally, if they prescribe a treatment or medication, they expect the patient to follow their orders. They rarely explain the procedure being done, or the drugs being administered. This can be particularly difficult for pregnant foreigners who would prefer a natural or alternative birthing style. Most births here are done with epidurals, or are caesarian sections. Being able to move around to find a comfortable position is not practiced, and the doctors may not allow this in their delivery room. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask what’s going on, or ask for certain treatments/medications if you’ve done some background research. A friend of mine was prescribed a drug that was particularly harsh on their system, and when they did some internet research, found a new drug for the same ailment that had fewer side-effects. When they mentioned this to their doctor, the doctor was happy to change the prescription, and my friend is now doing much better.

It's amazing how many different ailments require a shot in the "hip"...

It’s amazing how many different ailments require a shot in the “hip”…

In my experience, while the doctors I’ve encountered have tended to speak English well (though some are very shy about using it), many of the receptionists and nurses have low-to-no English, which can make a visit to the doctor a challenge. It can be helpful to either have a Korean friend translate (either in person or over the phone), or, if you don’t want to share your health concerns, use Google translate to write down key words, like the painful body part, or the symptoms you’re experiencing. This can help the staff to direct you to the proper department for help.

Some problems require a different kind of Doctor.

Some problems require a different kind of Doctor.

Usually, you check in with the reception desk (take a numbered ticket) and explain what you need. You’re then shown to (or told where to find) the doctor. If unclear, have the reception staff write it down, so that you can ask others when you’re wandering lost through the corridors. The doctor will do the examination, possibly start a treatment, and discuss with you what needs to be done next. This could be lab work, like blood or urine tests, booking a follow-up appointment, or writing out a prescription for medication. Then you move on to the lab if necessary, and finally head back to the reception desk (take another numbered ticket) to pay your bill. Your prescription will be printed out at that point, and the receptionist will likely tell you where the nearest pharmacy is (if it’s not in the building, there is one very close by, usually next door). If you’re there for a very specialized reason, you may want to get the prescription filled at the closest pharmacy, as they will have the meds you need. For instance, the pharmacy under an eye clinic will have lots of eye-specific meds that the pharmacy under an orthopedic surgery may not have.

Generally speaking, the level of care here is quite good, and many doctors’ offices have high tech diagnostics tools, like sonograms in an ob-gyn office, or fiber-optic cameras to go into your sinuses in an Ear/Nose/Throat clinic. As with any country, you can hear some horror stories, and Korean’s don’t really do medical malpractice, so unfortunately there are a handful of really terrible doctors out there. But just like at home, if you’re not comfortable with the person you see, find someone else. Younger doctors tend to be a lot more “westernized” in terms of patient care (explanations, receiving questions), and have often studied abroad, meaning their English may be stronger than some of the older guys around, but this isn’t a rule. Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate, or to bring in a friend to help you translate, if you have questions about a treatment or medication.

This might be a little young...

This might be a little young…

And don’t forget to check out the Where to Find section of the UlsanOnline Survival Guide, for doctors and dentists  recommended by fellow ex-pats. All hospitals mentioned in this article are (or will shortly be) pinned on the Interactive Map.