Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Korean Medical Check

So, What is this Check and Why is It a Big Deal?

Korea brings in thousands of new teachers each year, and the government wants to make sure that they are in general good health. There is an idea among the locals that if left unchecked, foreigners could easily spread diseases to the Korean population. Also, like in other countries, they don't want the recent arrivals to become a drain on the medical system.

As a result, all those coming to Korea on the foreign language teacher (E2) visa must pass a medical screening in Korea at a government-approved hospital. Then, the results are taken to immigration to apply for the Alien Registration Card (ARC), which is the national ID Card.

Long story short, if the teacher does not pass the exam, their E2 visa is cancelled and they are ordered to leave Korea at their own expense.

So, what sort of things are they looking for? Here is a clue:
Click on the picture to read the form in detail
The above is a snapshot of a form all prospective teachers must fill out while in their home country to apply for the initial visa, which goes in the passport.

If an applicant checks "yes" on any of those questions, they will be denied the visa.

Of course, you could always lie on this form, which is why you must get checked at a hospital within 90 days of your arrival to Korea.

The big things that will certainly get you sent home are: HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Hepatitis and illegal drug use.

There is also a big stigma against emotional issues, such as anxiety. Admitting such a problem will cause a rift, even if it doesn't impact one's teaching ability. They also test for common anxiety medications.

So, last week I completed my own medical check at a local hospital. I did mine at the fancy Ajou University Hospital. It was a fairly large hospital and it was impressive with state-of-the-art facilities. It came with a price tag: 120,000 Korean won or $111 US dollars. Medical checks typically cost around
70,000 won to 90,000 won.

Ajou University Hospital. Picture Source
I wasn't sure where to go at first, but when I finally arrived to the correct department it wasn't busy at all. I walked right up to a worker and told her what I wanted. She immediately asked if I was fasting, to which I nodded. I was ordered to fill out a form and another worker filled out additional details in Korean. I handed over the money and my passport along with 2 passport photos I had taken that morning. I was ready to go.

One of the women led me off to a locker room and handed me a spiral key to go around my wrist. It had my locker number. She pointed to the room and said, "Hospital gown, change-ee!" I knew I had to get dressed. I had to take off my clothes, including my bra but leaving on my underwear. I then put on their gown, size extra large. It was very similar to what you wear in a Jjimjilbang (Korean bath house). I then locked away my clothes and purse, and I was ready to go again.

I walked out at stared into a long, curved hallway with room numbers over the doors. Each room had a different station with another doctor waiting patiently. Here goes nothing!

The Different Steps of the Medical Check

The section where I got my medical check done
  1. The Urine Sample: The first nurse handed me a cup and coyly explained what I had to do, which was pee in a cup! This is to test for most illegal drugs.
  2. The Blood Samples: I returned with the cup and the same nurse had me sit down as she drew three vials of blood from my little arm. This is for other substances, such as opiates, HIV/AIDS and syphilis.
  3. The Basic Physical: In the next room, a nurse placed my arm in a blood pressure machine, tested my reflexes, took my height and weight, and then looked into my eyes and ears.
  4. The Vision and Hearing Tests: Next room! I had to cover each eye and read teeny tiny numbers! Then I was placed in this big sound-proof machine and put on headphones. I was handed a long control with a button. The doctor pointed to her ears. "Beeeeeeeep, touchie. Okay?" I smiled and nodded.
  5. The hospital in the daytime
  6. The Chest X-ray: I walked into the next room, and found the doctor and nurse behind some glass in a small room. They were looking at pictures of women. So, I had to knock on the glass. The doctor walked up to me and told me to take a bath. After I gave him a confused look, he laughed and told me to wait. He ran back into their little room and presumably checked a translator. He really wanted me to take a deep breath. Next thing I knew I was at another big machine and the doctor ordered me to make this really awkward pose against the machine. He then said something funny and I burst out laughing during the X-ray. Oops! We tried again and I was off to the next station. This tests for tuberculosis.
  7. The Dental Exam: The next room held a dentist and a typical dentist's chair. She quickly instructed me to take a seat. She took one of those little mirrors, looked into my mouth, and she was finished just as quickly as the whole thing started. What the heck was that even for? It is a mystery!
  8. The Final Questions: I walked into the last room, which was empty except for the doctor's desk. I sat on the other side and he asked me two simple questions. Have I ever taken narcotics before? Have I ever had a serious infectious disease? No, and no.
That's it! I was done and I went straight to work. All that's left is for me to pick up the results and take them to immigration when the time comes.

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