THE LARGEST international medical facility in South Korea, the Severance Hospital International Health Care Center (IHCC) has been providing medical care to foreign patients since 1962. The IHCC, as its name indicates, differs from ordinary medical centers in that it is dedicated to the medical well-being of foreigners residing both within and outside of Korea. Last year, the IHCC has treated approximately 90,000 patients, including foreigners and outbound Korean students who are required to submit medical documents for immigration. To further explore the clinic and its services, The Yonsei Annals interviewed the Director of the IHCC, Dr. John Linton.
Annals: Can you briefly introduce yourself?
Linton: My name is John Linton, and my Korean name is Ihn Yo-han. I have been the director of the International Health Care Center at Yonsei University Severance Hospital for 27 years. I am also a professor of the Department of Family Medicine at Yonsei University’s College of Medicine. Since 2015, I have been serving as the fourth President of the Korea Foundation for International Healthcare (KOFIH).
I was born in Jeonju and raised in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do. This is because my great grandfather, Eugene Bell, arrived in Korea in 1895 as a Presbyterian missionary. He established various educational institutions in Gwangju and Mokpo, Jeollanam-do. Like him, my grandfather and father were pioneers in medical missionary work on the Korean Peninsula. I pursued my studies at the College of Medicine at Yonsei University from 1980 to 1987. Afterwards, I did one year of pediatric residency at Flushing Hospital Medical Center and completed my family practice residency at the Catholic Medical Center of Brooklyn & Queens. In 1991, I was appointed as the director of the IHCC in my early thirties.
Annals: There are many international health care centers in South Korea. How is the service provided at the Severance IHCC different from that of others?
Linton: The Severance IHCC stands as the most unified and integrated international health care system in Korea. As the largest international medical facility in Korea, the IHCC has been visited by 45 hospitals that run their own international health care centers. These hospitals shared one mutual aim in their visits: to learn from our clinical system. We also possess a large body of staff with diverse skillsets, ranging from freelancers to medical residents assigned specifically to the IHCC. Among the 50 staff members that we have, there are six full-time doctors: one pediatrician, two internists, and three family practitioners. Owing to the hard work of our staff, our services are available 24/7.
To elaborate further, we strive to be meticulous in all of our procedures: in keeping the records of every admitted patient, making patient rounds in other departments, and tending to urgent cases in the emergency room. Also, on-call doctors are always available to provide aid to first-time patients, who often require assistance in navigating through the center. Lastly, many foreign patients come to Korea for its medical care, and our crew prides in their exceptional preparation in catering to their needs. For example, our services are provided in eight different languages—Japanese, Spanish, English, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, Mongolian and Korean. To us, it’s all about achieving interconnectivity. Ultimately, we aim to integrate the IHCC as an essential part of Yonsei Severance Hospital.
Annals: How does Severance and the IHCC play a role in Korea’s medical tourism?
Linton: The Severance Hospital and IHCC offer cutting-edge medical treatment and an ample supply of expertise. Our doctors possess excellent manual dexterity and are extremely meticulous in their surgical procedures and operations. Moreover, we perform more robotic surgeries than anywhere else in the world; we have in our possession seven da Vinci surgical robots that can conduct successful thyroid surgeries.
Most importantly, we place our utmost priority on the patients’ well-being and comfort. The IHCC collaborates with external agencies to organize “medical packages,” which include hotel accommodations and transportations for the patients and their family members. We also acknowledge the fact that many patients come from different parts of the world. Therefore, we strive to enhance communication between the patients and doctors by providing full translation services. To further cater to our international patients, we provide an even more diverse range of services, such as offering foreign cuisines and various worldwide television channels.
Annals: Are there any memorable stories that involve foreign patients that you would like to share with us?
Linton: There was one unforgettable patient. He was a 17-year-old boy who had an American father and Korean mother. He was diagnosed to be in a persistent vegetative state after he injured his midbrain in a ski trip in Yongpyong. This boy was initially hospitalized at another university hospital but was transferred to the Severance Hospital after showing no signs of progress. We examined his dire state, and could not but conclude that he was incurable. After two months of treatment at our rehabilitation center, however, we received a miraculous update from the mother that the boy started talking again. When we first received the message, we did not believe it: we thought that she could be imagining it. But when I visited the young patient in person at his hospital room, he greeted me by saying, “Good morning Mr. Linton.” His recovery was a miracle, unforgettable one, indeed.
He was discharged from the hospital soon after, and subsequently travelled to the United States for rehabilitation. He visited me one year later, and I was delighted when he walked into my office in a fully recovered state. Although he was still experiencing difficulty in clearly articulating his speech, he was in a remarkably improved state—he could walk on his feet again, and I heard that he even plays basketball! Having witnessed this, I was given a lot of hope.
Annals: Any last words that you would like to leave us with?
Linton: I do not believe that a doctor has the right to choose which patient to treat. This is the reason why we accept many patients who are terminally ill at the Severance IHCC. Here, we do not and cannot say, “You’re too sick. We can’t help you.” Regardless of the patients’ nationality, race, and severity of sickness, we, the Severance IHCC, will continuously strive to ensure that every patient receives the treatment they rightfully deserve.