Going to the Doctor in Korea

2 days worth of medicine for a bad chest cold

Most doctors in Korea speak some English which is great because I know a limited range of vocabulary related to illness. I know some body parts, how to talk about something hurting, and how to talk about tiredness. But knowing the proper Korean expression for “throbbing lymph nodes” is a little bit beyond me. So even if you’re only here on a short trip, but feel at all sick, don’t be afraid to pop into the nearest clinic.

Doctors in Korea are much cheaper and so is medication. Even without insurance, most visits are under $40 and most medicine will be less than $10 total. The basic procedure for the doctor is a bit different too. I have been to two different clinics in my time in Korea and I will explain in awkward detail for your knowledge and entertainment.

It’s important to know that because medical care is so cheap and Koreans so health conscious, people will pop by the hospital or clinic for colds, headaches, just about anything. And because of the quick, convenient nature of it, a lot the medical records procedure goes out the window. You don’t have one GP you go to once or twice a year. You drop in wherever you can and are often seeing different doctors. It’s up to you to alert them to family history, allergies, etc. They might not have any records about you.

If you have any cold or flu like symptoms, you’re probably going to have to drop trousers. To give you a boost, doctors often give you a shot in your bum. For like, anything that’s wrong with you. It’s been much speculated on about what exactly is in that shot. It might depend what your problem is. Some research I’ve done has said it’s a vitamin shot. B vitamins and such to help your body feel better. Some people say it’s an anti-histamine or cold medicine. I don’t really know. Just be ready to take your pants off and be spanked by a nurse.

Honestly, I wish all injections were given in the bum. It’s really fast and painless. Sometimes I wonder if the nurse really gave me and injections or if she just wiped on some alcohol and smacked me to psyche me out.

Then you are prescribed a huge pile of pills. Korean doctors tend to favor a cocktail of mild drugs combined and taken multiple times a day instead of one miracle pill in a big dose once a day. You might only get 2-3 days worth of drugs. If you aren’t clearing up in those 2-3 days, then you have to return to the doctor and have your treatment reevaluated to see if you need more of the same or something different.

In some ways, I really do see the logic in this method. In other ways, I don’t want to come back in two days. I’m busy and you already saw my butt. Our relationship should end in you giving me all the drugs and then me forgetting it ever happened. But because I prefer to fight things with as little pharmaceutical as possible anyway, a few days of decongestants and antihistamines are usually enough to get me over the worst of it and I let my body take care of the rest.

Also, medicine is prepacked in doses. So you get a little envelope of all the pills you need to take together instead of having to count it out from separate containers. It’s really nice for taking your medicine with you to work so you can take your doses on the go. If you’re taking three doses a day, portability is really important.

My experiences have been pretty positive, but there are always weird and questionable things that happen. A former coworker of mine went to the doctor with a skin rash and the doctor proceeded to bring up Wed MD and read to him from the computer. Then gave him a prescription. Now whether it was a language barrier or a lack of experience, I’m not sure. But come one, at least use the Mayo Clinic website. Even the best online hypochondriacs know that.


  1. Going to the doctor is never fun but at least you can go and they understand you. I am sitting here right now suffering with the dreaded “Grippe” (flu) but would rather chew off my own leg than go to the village doctor! *shudder*

    Geçmiş olsun (get well soon)

  2. Thanks, at least most of the procedure here is somewhat recognizable and the language doesn’t prove much of a problem. I hope you get over la grippe soon as well! 빨리 몸을 회복하세요!

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