Korean J Med Hist.  2014 Dec;23(3):429-468. 10.13081/kjmh.2014.23.429.

Becoming Medical Doctors in Colonial Korea: Focusing on the Faculty of Medical Colleges in Early North Korea

  • 1Science Culture Research Center & Department of Science Studies, Chonbuk National University, Jeonju, Korea. rootkgb@jbnu.ac.kr


This paper traces how Koreans of north area became medical doctors in colonial Korea. Most of the past research have focused only on the well-known medical doctors, or even when they discussed a great number of doctors, many research tended to only pay attention to the explicit final results of those doctors. This research, on the other hand, includes ordinary medical doctors as well as the renowed ones, and adjusts the focus to the lifetime period of their growth and activities. As a result, the misunderstanding and obscurity about the Korean medical doctors of north area during this period have been cleared. The new characteristics of the Korean medical doctors of this period have been found, along with their embodiment of historical significance. At the time, Koreans had to get through a number of qualifications in order to become doctors. First is the unique background
of origin in which the family held interest in the modern education and was capable of supporting it financially. Second is the long-term status of education that the education from elementary to high school was completed without interruption. Third is the academic qualification that among various institutions of higher education, medical science was chosen as a major. Fourth is the condition of career in which as the career as a doctor had consistently continued. Thus, in oder to become a modern medical doctor, Koreans had to properly complete these multiple steps of process. The group of Korean medical doctors in north area, which was formed after getting through these series of process, possessed a number of characteristics. Firstly, as the upper-middle classes constituted the majority of medical doctors in Korea, the societal status of doctors rose and the foundation for the career as a doctor to be persisted as the family occupation settled. Secondly, the research career and academic degree became the principal method to escape from the discrimination and hierarchy existed between doctors. A PhD degree, especially, was the significant mark for clearly displaying the abilities and outcomes of the doctors. Lastly, the research career, education experience, clinical training and such that the Korean doctors of the period had built up were weak at the time, however, they were important sources for the future medical science development. Indeed, after Liberation, the rapid settlement and growth of Korea's medical science field were largely beholden to thus. Therefore, the growth of the Koreans as doctors did not cease in colonial Korea, but instead continued onto the history of future generations. In spite of the fact that the Korean doctors's growth and activities were greatly limited under the forceful policy of colonial domination of the era, the efforts the Korean doctors had put were not in vain. Likewise, if we do not fix our attention at the dominating policy and system, but rather put together the actors' correspondence and struggles of the period, then the Korean doctors will be a part of the living history. Hereby, the clue to the paradox between the suppression of medical science in colonial Korea and its leap after Liberation can be untied.


medical doctor; background of origin; medical education; path after graduation; research career; colonial Korea
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