Medical mechanic takes the pulse of inter-Korean aidGot a problem with that stethescope’s hearing? Is your ultrasound machine singing the blues? If you work in Seoul National University hospital, fear not: there’s a special “doctor,” who treats medical devices’ ailments. Lee Geon-song, 52, is the senior engineer, the mechanic at the hospital’s medical engineering department, and has a reputation for catching and fixing defects in more than 3,000 medical devices.
Two of the hospital’s doctors, Wang Gyu-chang and Bang Yeong-ju, were in the same graduating class in Kyunggi High School as Mr. Lee. But while his classmates went on to work as interns at Seoul National University hospital in 1979, Mr. Lee began working there as an engineer. Because he had to take care of his sick mother and five young siblings, he started work immediately after graduating from high school. At work, he was respected as an able mechanic who could read English manuals. When he heard that Seoul National University hospital was looking for an experienced engineer, Mr. Lee applied for the post.
“Inspecting electronic circuits was fun and I was confident,” Mr. Lee said. “Medical systems were electronic devices as well and I thought I could handle it. And I like the fact that there was no discrimination against high school graduates in recruiting or promotion.”
When he was interviewed for the position, he heard that an ultrasound scanner was out of order ― he fixed it on the spot. That would be impressive at any time, but in those days the hospital had to wait for foreign engineers to arrive whenever an imported machine broke down. Mr. Lee, however, looked at the circuit diagram, replaced two parts worth 1,000 won (95 cents) each, and the machine started working immediately.
Mr. Lee has read hundreds of foreign books about repairing and developing medical devices. And with his acquired knowledge, he has begun repairing medical devices in other national and military hospitals.
Since 2001, his domain has included North Korea. Mr. Lee was in charge of maintaing second-hand medical devices donated by Seoul National University hospital. He has visited the North 20 times, installing a CT scanner, laser devices and electrocardiograms at Pyongyang Medical University Hospital. As part of an inter-Korean cooperation project he also maintains equipment at Pyongyang Medical Cooperation Center completed late last month at Mankyung University.
“When I went there, the machines sent from South Korea were idle,” Mr. Lee said. “Disposable items such as reagents were too expensive, so they couldn’t operate the machines. We delivered machines that cost less to operate, and they were happy about it.”
North Korean officials regard him as a man who knows what he’s doing and grant him special treatment. Even after relations between North and South Korea soured following a sea skirmish on June 29, 2002, Mr. Lee traveled between the two countries with ease.
Mr. Lee received a bachelors degree from Korea National Open University, a master’s degree at Hanyang University and a Ph.D. in medical engineering at Seoul National University. “It took 30 years to accomplish my dream of attending Seoul National University,” he said.
“I wrote my doctoral thesis based on 20 years’ work experience,” Mr. Lee said. “After I retire, I would like to spend the rest of my life as a volunteer repairing medical devices.”
by Shin Ye-ri