Oriental Medicine

Feeling worn down? Strained a muscle?  Caught a cold?  A visit to the Korean Traditional Medicine Clinic (한의원: hanouiwon) can be a great way to shake off the stress and relax.  An hour session of acupuncture and heat treatment will cost about $6 with insurance, and around $25 without it.  Don’t expect it to cure major ailments, but it can really help with minor aches and pains due to stress or overexertion.  It’s also a cool way to experience Korean culture.

Hanouiwons are not hard to find in South Korea.  If you live in an urban area, there are probably several within walking distance.  Usually they are located on the second, third, or fourth floors of commercial buildings.  Just look for a sign that says “한의원.”

Don’t worry if you don’t speak Korean.  We’ve found that the head doctors at most hanouiwons speak basic English.  Besides, it doesn’t take an extensive vocabulary to communicate.  Just point to the part of your body that hurts, and they’ll know what to do.

Here’s an interesting article from the Korea Times about one foreigner who was drawn to Korean Traditional Medicine.

Sometimes a single experience is significant enough to change one’s whole life.

Raimund Royer, the medical director of the Hospital of Jaseng Oriental Medicine International Clinic and Korea’s first-ever and so far the only foreign oriental doctor, was inspired to become an oriental medicine doctor because of a special experience he had here some 20 years ago.

The Austrian doctor first came to Korea on a three-month backpacking trip in the late 1980s.

“I’ve always wanted to come to and explore Asia. I chose Korea over Japan or China because I really didn’t know anything about the country,” he told The Korea Herald last week.

During his stay here, he learned Korean and taekwondo to have a true Korean experience. While playing taekwondo he once sprained his ankle, which led him to his first visit to a traditional herbal medicine shop.

Raimund Royer Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald

There, to Royers’ surprise, instead of going through a surgery or physical therapy, he was treated with acupuncture.

“The doctor applied acupuncture to random spots like my ear and hands. Although it felt weird at first, surprisingly, I found my ankle healed completely after two or three rounds of treatment,” he said.

The effectiveness of acupuncture was what primarily drew Royer into oriental medicine. But he said he also liked the atmosphere of herbal medicine shops — like the smell of herbs — as well as the concept of oriental medicine which is based on treating illnesses with “natural power.”

Royer decided to go to an oriental medicine university to become a certified doctor here despite his family’s opposition to the idea. Before coming to Korea, Royer studied economics in college and worked at an Austrian trading company for four years.

“The challenge started from then. Because I was a foreign national, no school would let me in, citing that they do not have the appropriate infrastructure and courses available,” he said.

With help from his Austrian friend in Daegu, Royer was able to enter Gyeongsan Hanny University which is now the Daegu Hanny University. Although learning Korean as well as Chinese characters to follow the course materials was challenging, Royer completed every step to become a doctor with perseverance.

Although he feels like a Korean after living here for such a long time, Royer has constantly been receiving attention from locals who were unfamiliar with seeing an oriental doctor with hazel eyes.

“While I was a resident at the Cha Hospital, I treated a lot of emergency patients. Most of them showed discomfort and fear saying that they do not speak English when they saw me at first, but they were okay as soon as they saw me speaking Korean,” he said.

As a foreign doctor of oriental medicine Royer has been showing expertise in treating expats in Korea.

“A lot of expats who hesitate to go to an oriental medicine hospital because of the language barrier come to me because I can treat them in English and German. Patients can only feel comfortable when their symptoms and conditions are completely understood by the doctor,” he said.

Royer said he has a lot of regular non-Korean female patients through word of mouth, including those who want to get acupuncture treatment before giving birth.

As the first and only foreign oriental doctor in Korea, Royer also feels a responsibility to globalize traditional Korean medicine.

“I do feel the burden on my shoulder. So, I’ve been writing English columns for Seoul Magazine and making media appearances to raise awareness overseas,” he said.

“But this (globalization of traditional Korean medicine) cannot be done by a person or a private organization. The government has to lead the move,” he said.

Royer emphasized the need for the government to establish an international oriental medicine university. The school can offer English curriculum for foreign students while functioning as a bridge to enable more active exchanges between local and foreign medical schools, he said.

Yet Royer said oriental medicine is no longer new to the global medical scene, citing Germany as an example.

“Acupuncture is already quite a commonly used treatment in Germany. Around 30,000 to 50,000 German doctors currently use acupuncture to treat patients. The number is even larger than that of total oriental medicine doctors in Korea,” he said.

But a more bankable and marketable way is to introduce herbal medicine to the world, Royer said. The European medical industry has already begun to use herbal medicine.

“The key for herbal medicine is that we have to prove the safety of the materials while modernizing it, like removing the unique smell of herbs,” he said.

Royer also stressed that traditional Korean medicine, though less known to the world than Chinese medicine, has a potential to do well globally — especially in the United States and Europe.

To make it, the country has to strongly appeal to the global market with a number of competitive advantages it has over Chinese medicine, he said. The list includes a more systematic educational curriculum, physical constitution classification methods and expertise in treating lumbar disc problems without surgeries.

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