Demand leads to rise in unskilled medical staff

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Demand leads to rise in unskilled medical staff

Just weeks before her wedding day, a 26-year-old bride-to-be decided to have her skin brightened at a renowned dermatologist in Sinchon, central Seoul.

The woman did her research online and found that the clinic only hired dermatology specialists - the primary reason she felt okay with entrusting the facility to care for her face, which would soon be greeting hundreds of family and friends.

But it was only after the procedure, however, that she learned that no one on the clinic’s staff list had actually been present. And that lesson came at a heavy price, in the form of burns and swelling on her face.

“When I called the clinic [and told them about the side effects], their answer was utterly preposterous,” said the woman, who only wished to be identified by her surname, Jeong.

“They told me that the doctor had just finished his internship, so he might have been clumsy with operating the device since it was his first time.”

Another woman said she was victimized in a similar way.

When the 32-year-old, surnamed Song, called the hospital after a failed acne treatment resulted in swelling and a burning sensation on her face, she was dumbfounded to learn that the doctor in charge of the procedure was not a medical specialist.

Rather, he had simply “studied dermatology in the United States,” according to the hospital.

Fueling these incidents, local doctors argue, is the domestic laws here that allow medical school graduates to work in any area of medicine, regardless of whether he or she has completed five more years of advanced education and clinical training in that field.

Many clinics, they add, take advantage of that loophole, which only confounds the problem and mars the industry’s reputation. And patients often experience ill results post-op when these facilities illegally falsify their personnel’s academic background.

“The structure and physiology of the human skin is so intricate that even the slightest medical error can lead to scars and pigmentation,” said Lim Ee-seok, head of the Association of Korean Dermatologists.

“It’s a field that requires constant studying,” he underscored.

A medical specialist certification in Korea calls for a yearlong internship, a four-year residency and a final qualification on the exam for medical specialties. That’s five years on top of the six years required for the undergraduate-level direct-entry program, which includes two years of premed followed by four years in the standard medical program.

A postgraduate-level medical school program, or a second-entry degree required in countries like the United States and Canada, has been introduced in some local universities since 2005.

It is unclear how many cases of medical negligence in Korea have involved doctors who aren’t specialists, but in explaining why some clinics hire nonprofessionals, most doctors point to skyrocketing demand.

Despite the fact that nearly 90 percent of doctors in Korea work with a specialized medical certification, a dermatologist in Myeong-dong, central Seoul, claimed that local clinics struggle to satisfy their patients.

“When you have more and more people flooding in asking for medical specialists, you get to the point where you have no other choice but to hire non-specialists to do the job,” the doctor said on the condition of anonymity.

“Especially in the summer, when the number of consumers for cosmetic procedures is at its peak, [some doctors] get introduced to interns through acquaintances at their alma mater,” the source added.


BY KIM SUN-MI AND LEE SUNG-EUN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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