Medical Humanities


Crafting Seoul National University Hospital


Crafting Seoul National University Hospital: Healthcare, Medical Modernity, and their Techno-Cultural Construction

Park Hyung Wook

This project aims at studying the evolution of South Korean hospitals from 1945 to 2015. This is a significant academic subject in three aspects. First, hospitals are the key places of biomedicine, a new form of healthcare in modern society. By analyzing the changing roles and structures of South Korean hospitals, we can understand how health has been technologically constructed and culturally negotiated in South Korea. Second, Korean hospitals have played important historical roles at key moments. Above all, they were the crucial agencies of national reconstruction after the Korean War, when the United States federal government retrained Korean physicians and medical professors, who contributed to transforming the practice of healthcare in the country. Third, Korean hospitals have often been castigated for their manifold problems, while, paradoxically, advertising their "advanced" system to medical tourists from China, Vietnam, and Malaysia. As we can see in the recent MERS (Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in Korea, their Confucianism-inspired reliance on patients' family members for patient care and feeding have incurred substantial casualties and bitter criticism. Obviously, South Korea's hospitals are a reflection of the country's troubled past as well as an ongoing project toward medical modernity in the global era. Thus my hypothesis is that the current problems and strength of Korean hospitals were simultaneously formed as a techno-cultural response to the questions and conditions of modernity that people had to negotiate with during the shifting social conditions. I want to examine this hypothesis using a historical and sociological methodology and approach, namely, archival research and interviewing. This project is relevant to Singapore, because Korea’s growth pattern was similar to Singapore’s during the twentieth century. In my study of a Korean case, Singaporeans will find a useful resource for improving their healthcare system.