Historic nursing school will now closeDespite its 48-year history, the National Medical Center’s College of Nursing is closing down. The college was built in 1958 at the suggestion of the United Nations to assist postwar reconstruction in Korea. At the time of its opening, it was one of the most prestigious nursing colleges in Korea and the only school at which all students received full scholarships from the government. The building and management of the college was supervised by representatives of Norway, Sweden and Denmark. They also supported the building of hospitals in Incheon and Busan.
There was a need for nurses who could speak English at the Medical Center (the former name of the National Medical Center) because it filled with foreign doctors at the time. As a result, 80 to 90 percent of the nurses’ classes were held in English. The students, all in their 20s, had to work twice as hard to cope with the language barrier and to this day, there are legendary stories about the stressful periods of study they had to endure in order to graduate from the college.
The two-storied college building and its dormitory was built in Seoul’s Euljiro area, amongst the ruins of war. At a time when heating briquettes were scarce, the dormitory always had heating and students’ rooms even had balconies. Song Jee-ho, 58, a graduate of the college in 1970 and head of the industry-academic cooperation board of the medical center, recalls, “On the day that the dormitory opened its doors, a huge crowd gathered around as if it were a big event.”
For the first 10 years, only a select number of students, no more than 31, were able to attend. The students had heavy study workloads and only two weeks for vacation, one in the summer and one in winter. In addition, 70 percent of the classes involved on-the-job training.
As the nation was in dire need of more nurses, the students served as nurses while they trained. In exchange for the government paying for their three-year training, all the students had to work a mandatory three years for the Medical Center after graduation.
Many of the center’s graduates are now a vital part of Korea’s public health programs. Primary examples are Choi Gyu-ok, an executive board member at the Health Insurance Review Agency; Lee Geum-ja, head of the nursing department at Seoul National Hospital; Park Su-won, head of the nursing department at the National Rehabilitation Center; and Kim Nam-shin, former head of the nursing department at the National Cancer Center.
However, few of the graduates had influential roles as nurses in Korea. As the school followed the three-year university program of northern European schools, when they graduated, they earned less money than people who had done a four-year university course in Korea. Because of these circumstances, a large portion of the graduates in the first 10 years went abroad to work, which was almost impossible for most other Koreans, but because of their European-style educational background and English language skills they had an advantage. During the 1970s, many Koreans went to Germany to become nurses and some even became doctors.
In 1968, the three Scandinavian countries stopped sponsoring the center. Also, during the ’80s, the center did away with the three-year mandatory working period for graduates and the full scholarships. Although it tried to revamp itself and become a four-year institution, it failed to do so.
Last Tuesday, the Ministry of Health and Welfare announced that they would abolish the school and admit its 2007 freshmen into the nursing program at Sungshin Women’s University.
by Kim Young-hoon