As a part of coming to Korea to teach English, all foreigners are required to undergo a mandatory medical exam to prove their state of health. Unfortunately, those with problems the government or your school considers to be “dangerous” will be asked to leave, so it’s a good idea to go over things before hand, to make sure you’ll be alright before you hop on a plane. While yours may vary slightly, here is my experience with the teacher medical exam in Korea.
The medical clinic will be most likely located in an office building designed for health sciences. Looking like any other building, you’ll take the elevator to your designated floor, hand your ID, a photocopy of it, and three passport-sized photos to the front desk staff (who most likely won’t speak much English). In return, they’ll hand you a set of keys and direct you to the locker room.
Once in the locker room, you are required to strip off all clothes, and basically wear only the scrubs that are provided for you (you can keep your underwear on). Once you’ve done that, you can lock up your personal items, put on the provided slippers, and head out into the waiting area.
Blood Pressure, Height and Weight
A woman with a clipboard approaches the waiting area and calls out your name; you’re taken across the floor to a blood pressure machine, directed to place your arm through, and the cuff automatically measures what your pressure is. I later had to have it retested three times since it was high; and the staff couldn’t seem to understand why I was nervous about the situation; it’s a bright room where you’re whisked around to various stations with very little English, which decides whether or not you stay in the country after a week – nah, not stressful at all.
After measuring your BP, you’re taken to a scale which measures your weight (in kilos) and your height automatically (in cm).
The Hearing Test
Next up is a hearing test. You’re taken to a dimly lit room with a soundproof booth, like an old school telephone booth. The nurse instructs you to sit in the booth, place the headphones on, and press the button when you hear a sound. The test is about 4 sounds, all the same pitch, but very very faint; nice and easy.
The Vision Test
After being directed back to the waiting area, a nurse calls you up to a bench where she shows you the letter C. Looking into a microscope you tell her which direction the C is facing; regular, down, or backwards. This one was a little difficult for me, but mention if you normally wear glasses.
With the vision test complete, the medical clinic required you to pee in a cup and bring them two vials of urine. I caught a glimpse of my chart in which I saw that this was exclusively a drug test. Cannabinoids, opioids, amphetamines and cocaine were all tested for. Quite a few English teachers were sent home for testing positive for the above drugs. If you use them, make sure to give yourself time for the drugs to clear your system before coming to Korea. On a related note, don’t ever think about using drugs here. While they may be legal or tolerated in your country, the punishment in Korea is terribly harsh.
The Blood Test
After your urine test, a phlebotomist will withdraw two vials of blood. Before the exam you will be required to fast for 6-8 hours; take this seriously as if you don’t, you’ll need to be retested at your own expense. Catching another glimpse at my chart, one of the vials is to measure general health, so glucose/insulin levels, CBC, everything a doctor would normally do at a physical. The other vial is to test for the anti-HIV antibody. Unfortunately foreigners who test HIV positive, even if currently on antiretroviral therapy are not permitted to remain in the country. It’s my understanding that it’s the belief of the Korean government that HIV is a foreign-vectored disease, in that they think it’s brought to the country exclusively by foreigners. I’m not going to harbour an opinion on that, but the UN has a few things to say. I’ll let you make your own conclusions.
A nurse will then escort you into a room asking you to remove your top and lay down on a bed. They will then hook up leads (little suction cups) to all your limbs, and six suction cups around your chest. I caught a glimpse at my print out and was able to see that it was looking normal, which was great. For my friends not previously in the health field, they mentioned this test made them the most nervous, since they didn’t really know what was happening. All you’ve got to do is relax, the wires won’t shock you.
The Chest X-ray
In the quickest possible test, I was then whisked into a room, told to turn around, place my chin on a platform, my arms on my hims, push my shoulders forward and hold my breath. The attendant then ran away, took the X-ray, and the entire thing was over in 10 seconds; I wish back home could be that efficient.
The Dental Exam
After the chest X-ray, I was instructed to take the elevator to the 5th floor for a dental check up. Once there, I was taken to a small booth where I sat in a standard chair, and a dentist performed a visual inspection of my teeth. No special instruments, just his eyes, a tongue depressor and a flashlight. He jotted some things on my chart – probably my 1000 fillings from my candy-obsessed years, and sent me on my way back to the 7th floor.
The Doctor’s Interview
I was then sent into a room where a doctor asked me some basic questions about my health. Noting my increased blood pressure, she asked me if I suffered from hypertension. She asked about diabetes, heart disease, if I had any pain, arthritis, asthma, and a few others I can’t remember.
With my doctor’s interview complete, I was sent to re-do my blood pressure check, where despite it still being relatively high, it fell just within the upper limit of normal. The nurse instructed me that I was finished, and had me go change back into my regular clothes and return the key. With that, my experience at the “medical centre” was finished. While terribly efficient, it’s less of a clinic and more of a processing facility. With the exception of the doctor, patients were treated with very little bedside manner, and more just another piece of meat. It wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience to have, but it might be a necessary one for that clinic, with the amount of people they see. I’m interested to see if the rest of the Korean health care system operates in the same style.
If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll try my best to answer them.