Comfortable and confidential sexual health care for foreigners and the LGBTQ community
Story by: Rob Shelley
Photos by: Dukhwa
Most of us feel uncomfortable talking with a doctor about the possibility of having a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and answering questions about sexual history and symptoms. That discomfort is magnified when the doctor doesn’t understand our language and comes from a culture with more conservative values than our own. For those uncomfortable discussing their sexual health with Korean doctors, there’s the Sewum Urology Center of Excellence.
Dr. Sean Park is a Clinical Associate Professor of Urology at Ajou University and a world expert in prosthetic procedures. But that’s not all Dr. Park focuses on. He had his residency in Suwon, near the Pyeongtaek military base, as a member of the international clinic staff. “I do know how hard it is when you can’t have a proper conversation with the physicians,” explains Dr. Park. “I wanted to help. Urology problems are pretty sensitive and confidential, and foreign patients want someone who understands that.”
Urology problems are pretty sensitive and confidential, and foreign patients want someone who understands that.
For the standard STI check, all you need to do is give a small urine and blood sample. Most tests are covered by the national health insurance and the results come back within a day or two. Other doctors might do unnecessary tests or treatments, or charge extra for English consultations, which Dr. Park thinks is monstrous. “I thought that should be stopped. Each of us are an ambassador of our country. I don’t want [South Korea] to be blamed for that kind of absurdity.”
Although most of Dr. Park’s revenue, like most clinics in upscale neighborhoods like Gangnam, come from specialized surgeries—and Dr. Park is a world leader in what he does—he believes that providing this form of community health service is the highest calling to which a doctor can ascribe. As such, about half or more of all outpatients at Sewum are foreign-born because that’s one of the communities that need non-discriminatory health services the most.
As hard as it is to feel comfortable as a male or female expat, it’s even harder for someone with a unique sexual or gender identity. The idea of approaching a doctor, especially as a gay male, and having to be honest about your sexual activity must be daunting in conservative South Korea. Yet, if one upholds the charade then they might not get as thorough or inclusive of a medical check than they would if they were honest.
“Gay patients are really undertreated and neglected in this society,” Dr. Park asserts. “Not just foreign people, but Korean patients as well.”
In London, Dr. Park was a guest physician at a clinic that performed transgender procedures. It was the first time he saw anything like it and, as with many of us, he initially thought it was odd. But the experience changed him and he soon saw the universality in all people who seek medical help. “They are a patient, regardless of their age, thier sex, their sexual orientation or gender. They’re a patient and we treat patients. That’s all.”
Gay patients are really undertreated and neglected in this society,” Dr. Park asserts. “Not just foreign people, but Korean patients as well.
That’s Dr. Park’s philosophy as a doctor. “We serve humans.”
And then there’s the Korean taboo of HIV and AIDS. Dr. Park firmly believes that all patients have a right to human dignity, including their medical privacy and full range of medical options. That’s why he prescribes PrEP, a medication that reduces the risk of contracting HIV for people in high-risk situations. And, as many of us know, while Koreans with HIV/AIDS get their treatment paid for, most foreigners simply get deported. Dr. Park disagrees with this policy and so provides complete confidentiality for his patients.
Despite the success of his surgical expertise, Dr. Sean Park values helping foreigners and those discriminated against because of their sexual or gender identities. “A lot of [foreign or gay] patients here have travelled around to university hospitals and private practices but couldn’t find the proper treatment,” Dr Park explains, having seen seen this exact situation many times in the past.
So, unable to advertise in Korean magazine for fear of blowback, this is how Dr. Park is reaching out to people who are looking for dignified, comfortable, and confidential sexual health care at an affordable price.
His message: “My job to is help the patient’s health, not to judge them.”
Sewum Prosthetic Urology Center of Excellence
Dong-il Bd. 10th fl. 429 Gangnam-daero
Seocho-gu, Seoul, Korea 06612
Directions: Between Gangnam and Sinnonhyeon stations, on the 10th floor of the building with the Kakao Friends store.
Hours: Mon – Fri: 10:00 am – 6:00 pm,
Sat: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm