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Issue 3 Congressman Chung Ui-Hwa’s Journey from Medicine to the National Assembly


What was your major reason for attending medical school? Why did you want to become a physician? While practicing as a physician, what have been some of the difficulties and memorable moments?

As a child, I always dreamed of becoming a diplomat or judge. I initially wanted to study political science and law in college. However, because my brother was attending a medical school, my father wanted me to follow his footsteps and pursue a degree in a medical field as well. I accepted his advice and decided to pursue a medical career

Although I entered the medical profession and became a physician as my father had wished for, I actually believe that I am a politician now because of my decision to follow his advice. In that way, my father has shaped my life in a profound way and continues to inspire me. I am grateful for his influence and guidance.

After entering a medical school, I thought I’d like to pursue my dream as Albert Schweitzer had done by helping those in need and making a difference in the lives of others. I strived to learn as much as I could and concentrated on my studies in order to become a respected physician. I was also actively involved in many school activities, including writing as a reporter for my university’s medical science newspaper. Applying the Hippocratic Oath to medicine, I try to remind of myself the original intention to heal with a conscience and keep the dignity of patient’s life and health first.

I specialize in neurosurgery, especially cerebrovascular surgery. I used a surgical knife many times a day when I was practicing, and there were many days when I had to be on my feet for nearly 24 hours to operate on patients. Since my residency, I have performed brain and spinal cord surgeries for more than 5,000 patients over 30 years. At that moment, the workload was sometimes difficult and challenging. However, I have learned that what I could provide through my work to save lives was well worth all the long hours and hard times making life and death decisions. From my experiences as a physician, I have learned much and gained strong willpower, wisdom and calm judgment. These features have helped me overcome crises in my political life later on.

Some of the most difficult moments I had encountered were operating hospital under-budget due to low cost medical treatments and dealing with possible medical accidents.

During my 30 years of practice, I looked after needy patients as my first priority. In my heart, the needy were like Jesus; the hospital represented the church, and I was the priest wearing the white gown with a power to heal and stop suffering. I always believed with all my heart that it would be honorable to spend my whole life at a hospital providing medical care to patient. That is how much I valued and was satisfied with my life, and being a physician made each day worthwhile.

You are a physician-turned-politician. What were your motivations to get involved in politics as a member of the National Assembly? Also, in politics, are there pros and cons to being a physician?

Simply, I think I was destined to become a politician. Before the 15th general election in 1996, Former President Kim Young Sam started the nomination revolution in the New Korea Party, and I was engaged as a health care expert. That was how I first started my political career.

At that time, I was a neurosurgeon, well known as a leading microvascular specialist. I succeeded in expanding the Bong Sang Neurosurgery to a larger scale general hospital. Then I became a successful physician and CEO who created thousands of jobs based on my management principle, “profits made from patients will be used for patients.” I was involved in welfare reform and various cultural businesses, which made me realize that being a politician might be truly my destiny.

Seeing political corruptions everywhere for too long in a way pushed me toward politics. My determination to heal and make the society healthier led me to serve as a physician. I wanted to become the best physician in Busan by raising the quality of medical and healthcare services in the region. I have always believed that medicine must be a benevolent art. I also believe that the ethics of humanism should resonate strongly for both physicians and politicians.

One of the most significant advantages of being a physician-politician is my understanding of human lives as I have learned from experiences as a medical doctor. Furthermore, the knowledge I have of human lives at core has helped facilitating my genuine respect for diversity and attention towards social minorities. I was ready and eager to serve the society.

I strictly follow meticulous professionalism that does not allow mistakes when it comes to handling the lives of people. The way I examine every aspect of each diagnosis and medical situation in order to perform a successful surgery has certainly helped me deal with legislation and policy decisions through a more comprehensive and macroscopic approach.

Unfortunately though, there’s often prejudice against politicians with non-political backgrounds, such as physicians. To overcome this prejudice, I expanded my area of specialization by actively participating in a lot of committee, including Finance and Economic Committee, Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee. I constantly keep active and try to achieve balance and harmony in the way I engage issues, domestic or international. I am much concerned with the fair and just dealings between the eastern and western countries, and the reunification of the North and South Korea.

Since 1996, you have been actively involved in politics as an influential Congresswoman. Especially, you were recently appointed as the Chairwoman of the National Assembly. As one of Korea’s most powerful leaders, what political philosophy do you have?

If I were to sum up my political philosophy into four different parts: 1) balanced development of the domestic regions, 2) harmony of the East and West, 3) development of the healthy society for society of trust, 4) the unification of the North and South Korea

Currently, Korea is divided into the North and South. Within the South Korea, there is an invisible yet pronounced regional boundary that has been drawn between the Eastern and Western regions due to intense political polarization and regional rivalry.

I don’t see our nation’s future possible with the divided Korean Peninsula nor a huge socioeconomic gap between the capital and noncapital regions. The conflicts of the Eastern and Western areas have risen to surface while the enormous gap between the capital and noncapital regions has been ignored among us.

To correct this imbalance, harmony between these regions must be made. I guarantee that the Republic of Korea will grow exponentially with balanced and strategic development of the national land.

Korea should seek unification for its long term growth, while pursuing the harmonious and balanced relationship building between the Eastern and Western areas. One of my career goals is to help the nation overcome this challenge.

My ultimate task as a politician is to create a ‘healthy society for Korea’ where law and justice are respected and alive, and everyone is given fair and just consideration and has trust for one another. Honesty to me is always transparent.

It has been 18 years since I began my political career to cure our societal ills similarly to how a physician cures a patient’s disease. I have also been actively pursuing and supporting our nation’s aim for Korea’s eventual unification and overall health of our society.

Haeng-baek-ri-ja-ban-gu-sib (行百里者半九十), ‘it’s still half way even though one has made 90 miles out of a 100-mile journey.” Meaning, one may still fail the journey if one doesn’t persist to the last. As this proverb reminds the last part of an endeavor being the hardest to finish, I will meditate my original motivation of becoming a politician and dedicate my best efforts to make ‘healthy society for Korea’ for every Korean.

Currently, many Korean doctors are demonstrating their knowledge and skills around the world in medical industry. Do you have anything to say to those who dream of becoming a doctor one day and also to those who are currently medical students?

Even though it is a tough life living away from home country, I would like to thank all Korean doctors for their dedication and contribution to humanity. Your practice has improved the status of our country and I give my heart of respect and gratitude to you all over the world.

From a medical book that is known to be a bible to surgeons, it says that a good doctor is not who succeeds every surgery. Good doctor means a warm-hearted individual who really cares about the patient. Being a doctor is not always about good techniques and astonishing skills, it is always patient-first mind.

As it is said in the book to become a patient-first minded doctor, here I include a ‘preparation’ step to make a perfect doctor. With the preparation step, the doctor can prepare for any outbreak incidents that occur during operation which will lead to success of surgery and patients can fully regain their health.

I would like to tell all of you prospective doctors to set clear goals and a topic for your life to go beyond the scope and limits of medical career. Keep in mind to challenge and experience constantly to make this happen.

You will find yourself growing up step by step when you put the patient-first mind in the bottom and stack with knowledge, skills, preparation, and constant effort to go beyond the limit.

WKMO is an organization of global Korean doctors who have the Korean pride, knowledge and skills to enhance the healthcare sector for South Korea. What would be your expectations to our organization if any? As we prepare the ‘World Korean Doctors’ Week,’ an international medical convention in Seoul in July 2015, what do you hope to see as an outcome of this event?

Korea has come a long way since the colonial era and is still divided into the South and North Korea. Our nation has overcome wars and poverty to stand now just outside the top 10 in as one of the most prosperous and powerful economies around the world. Korea is the one and only nation in history that has become a donor to help other underdeveloped nations from once being a beneficiary of the international aid.

This has been possible in part because of our fellow Korean physicians and medical researchers around the world who have helped raise the status of Korea through their dedication and effort beyond the Korean community. These efforts have had a tremendous impact on increasing the Korean medical industry’s competitiveness leading Korea to prominence in the global medical environment.

I am convinced that Korea’s medical innovation and leadership today is due to every hard-working medical personnel’s commitment to the Hippocratic oath and Korean’s unique national characteristics of enthusiasm and dedicated workmanship.

Physicians have the obligations to not only cure patients’ diseases but also to know the pathology and treat humans to function well in a larger society. Korea is currently suffering from a chronic illness of so called a ‘divided nation’ syndrome. It is time for WKMO to step up and help us treat and cure this disease.

This should be our people’s mission. I ask for all of the WKMO members to support this cause to unite Korea. We need to pay more attention to the potentials which can facilitate Korea’s unification. For instance, we can improve the relationship with North by developing collaborative healthcare activities within the private sector.

As I am looking forward to meeting everyone at the 2015 World Korean Doctors’ Week, my hope is to find an opportunity there to discuss and mobilize global Korean physicians on providing medical assistance to North Koreans and figure out realistic cooperation and support plans for North Korea’s underdeveloped health care facilities. With this in mind, this convention will become the cornerstone for the growth of inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation.

Also, I see the convention as an outlet to promote thought leadership on Korea’s unification worldwide and convey our effort to avoid conflict and enhance mutual understanding for our nation’s better future.

Could you share your future vision for the Republic of Korea with our readers from more than 10 countries around the world?

I am the 19th Chairman of the National Assembly in Republic of Korea, serving now close to 100 days for the second half in that capacity since being appointed. During this time period, I have worked hard to restore our people’s trust through progressive parliamentary reform and to improve the relationship between the South and North Korea and the regional security and unity.

Although my appointment is relatively recent, I am committed to keep the promises I have made to my people and the nation. I would be thrilled to get to know all of your readers and earn their support and trust through their encouragement and advice.

Without a doubt, my future vision for Korea is to see it becoming a united nation at peace with its neighbors and in strong partnerships with its allies for making the world a better place. Overcoming the regional conflict in Northeast Asia and taking bold yet careful steps toward unifying the South and North Korea remain the top priority, which I consider as one of the most important and urgent task we have.

I firmly believe that the unified Korea will become an open and peace-loving, non-nuclear nation, contributing to the peace and harmony of the mankind.

I would like to ask all of your readers to keep an eye on the Republic of Korea and its hopes and dreams, and the future transformation.

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