Back To Top

South’s the right medicine for N.K. trio

Three brothers obtain Oriental medical doctor’s license in South

SEONGNAM, Gyeonggi Province ― In a cozy and welcoming oriental clinic, a smile never leaves the doctor’s face as he runs about greeting the steady flow of patients, answering the ceaseless phone calls and treating those who trust his hands and herbal medicine.

The 45-year-old doctor of Myohyangsan Oriental Medical Clinic gives a good impression on sight, which is then reinforced when he greets you in his approachable bright manner.

Engaged in a daily routine that would exhaust most, Park Su-hyun multitasks with an ease that immediately marks him out as a grafter, possibly from having spent the greater part of his life in North Korea.

Park defected from the North more than 18 years ago, and now runs a modest but successful clinic in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.

Park has long been hailed in media reports as the first defector to pass the notoriously difficult state oriental medicine exam, and also the first to receive a doctorate. 

Park Su-hyun (right) poses with his brothers Sae-hyun (center) and Tae-hyun at his clinic. (Park Su-hyun)
Park Su-hyun (right) poses with his brothers Sae-hyun (center) and Tae-hyun at his clinic. (Park Su-hyun)
But he is no longer alone in his success story. His younger brother Sae-hyun, 35, passed the exam in 2009 and Tae-hyun, 40, his other brother, passed it just last month. All three brothers passed the exams on their third try. Their eldest brother, 47, is also doing well at a company.

In the North, Park Su-hyun, had studied oriental medicine for four years, in the hope of curing his ailing father.

“During my mandatory military service at Myohyang Mountain, I received a recommendation to enroll in Chungjin Medical School, which is the only way to be admitted,” Park told The Korea Herald.

He had never dreamed of continuing his practice here, but through luck or fate, his knowledge from the North propelled his future.

According to Park, med students in the North are often sent out to forage for medicinal herbs and many are left with no choice but to eat them to stave off their constant hunger, inadvertently familiarizing themselves with the herbs’ effects.

Park noticed that a South Korean official assigned to help him had problems with urination, and offered to make him a herbal remedy. Park was able to cure the symptoms of the official’s ailment that had lasted several years.

Recognizing Park’s talent, the official encouraged Park to enroll in Kyung Hee University’s famous oriental medical program.

“I never would have gotten in on my own,” said Park, who vowed to study hard to honor the official’s efforts.

However Park and his family’s achievements did not come easily. The family was faced with numerous difficulties as defectors ― overcoming the language barrier, accepting completely different social ideologies, defecting individually over a period of five years, and struggling to master English and Hanja, or Chinese characters, in their studies to become licensed doctors.

Park’s decision to defect also had consequences for his family in the North. After he fled from the North, members of his family left behind were persecuted.

“Since we all defected individually it was extremely difficult,” said Park. “I would have to send people to the North and pay for people to go in and bring out my family.”

The Park family of six made the treacherous journey over the border over three separate occasions.

Persecuted in the North, Park Sae-hyun was initially filled with resentment toward his brother, but saw how hard Park Su-hyun worked and the benefits he sowed, and decided to follow in his footsteps towards oriental medicine.

“My brother had never considered oriental medicine before, but he talked to friends and other defectors and they told him how I was better off than others that came from the North,” said Park Su-hyun.

His younger brother had never studied the subject before, but with the help and support from his older brother, he was able to become a licensed practitioner and establish a clinic under the same name as his brother in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province.

The middle of the three, Park Tae-hyun, who had just recently passed the state exam, also had no interest in studying oriental medicine. But after receiving a degree in physical therapy, he was guided by his brothers to become an oriental doctor. He struggled with his studies, but with encouragement from both brothers, and the entire family’s ceaseless drive to work hard, he was able to pass the exam on Jan. 28, giving the family something worth celebrating over the Seollal holiday.

“Studying here was challenging, but since life was so difficult there (North Korea), life does not seem hard here,” said Park Su-hyun.

But he also said that many defectors struggle to survive after several generations of different cultures, traditions, customs and ideological beliefs, but added that defectors need to recognize that they must start over, and that they are near the bottom of the social ladder.

“This does not change overnight, if you want to achieve something you need to set a 10-year goal and work hard at it,” said Park.

His next goal is to attend Harvard University, and he is currently studying English.

According to government data from 2010, less than a half of North Korean refugees aged over 15 were engaged in economic activities six months after settling down in the South in 2009.

A majority of the employed were engaged in menial labor in restaurants, construction sites or machinery assembly factories.

The number of North Korean defectors surpassed 20,000 in November of last year.

By Robert Lee (

<관련 기사>

남한서 한의사 꿈 이룬 탈북 삼형제

탈북한 삼형제가 차례로 한의사 시험에 합격해 화제가 되고 있다.

현재 경기도 성남시에서 `묘향산한의원'을 운영하는 박수현(45)씨 가족이 그 주인공.

4형제 중 둘째인 수현씨가 2001년에, 막내 세현(35)씨가 2009년에 한의사가 된데 이어 셋째인 태현(40)씨가 최근 발표된 한의사 국가고시 합격자 명단에 이름을 올렸다.

북한의 청진의학대학 약학부(한약학과)에 다니던 수현씨가 1993년 탈북한 뒤 1995년 경희대학교 한의예과에 편입해 졸업하고 한의사가 되자 뒤이어 한국에 들어온 동생 태현씨와 세현씨도 나란히 한의학에 관심을 둬 꿈을 이룬 것이다.

특히 `삼형제 탈북 한의사 탄생'은 수현씨가 지난해 탈북자 출신 한의사 가운데 처음으로 박사 학위까지 따는 영예를 얻은 뒤 찾아온 겹경사여서 기쁨을 더하고  있다.

큰 형을 빼고 한의학 공부에 몸담은 삼형제가 모두 국가고시에 합격하는 과정이 순탄치만은 않았다.

세 번의 시험 끝에 합격한 막내에 이어 태현씨도 시험장을 세 차례나 찾아야 했고, 태현씨가 이번 시험을 볼 때는 가족들이 마음을 졸이며 108배를 할 정도로 걱정이 많았다.

태현씨는 "북한에서는 한자를 잘 쓰지 않았는데 한의대를 다니면서 첫 3년은 한자를 잘 몰라 사전을 부지런히 찾으며 말 그대로 공부만 했다"면서 "발표 전에는  3∼4일간 잠이 안 오더니 합격자가 발표되고는 기뻐서 또 잠을 자지 못했다"고  웃었다.

수현씨도 "동생이 합격했다니 복권에 당첨된 것 같았다"면서 "하늘을 난다는 게 이런 거구나 싶었다"고 자기 일처럼 기뻐했다.

1993년 홀로 탈북했던 수현씨가 1999년 천신만고 끝에 모셔온 부모님의 감회도 남다르다.

특히 아들의 탈북 이후 산골로 끌려가 굶어 죽을 위기마저 겪었던 부친 박상운(73)씨는 남한에 입국한 후에도 담석 수술을 세 차례나 했을 정도로 몸이 편치  않았지만 삼형제가 차례로 한의사가 되는 걸 보고 나서는 "이젠 근심이 없다. 오래 살 것 같다"고 웃음을 지었다고 수현씨는 전했다.

수현씨를 따라 막내가 개업한 한의원도 `묘향산한의원'이다. 수현씨가 묘향산에서 군복무를 할 때 의대에 가겠다는 초심을 가졌던 걸 기억하려고 지은 이름을 막내도 물려받았고 태현씨는 진로를 생각 중이다.

수현씨는 정착에 어려움을 겪는 주변의 탈북자들에게 "한국에서 하는 모든 일이 어렵고 하루 이틀에 이뤄지지 않기 때문에 포기하지 말고 꾸준히 노력하는 것이  중요하다"고 조언하면서 "미국 하버드대에서 철학박사를 하고 싶어서 10년을 잡고  지금도 영어공부를 계속하고 있다"고 말했다. (연합뉴스)
Korea Herald Youtube