AMC(also known as Seoul Asan Hospital) in Jamsil towered over me, gleaming in pearly white as I made my way through the endless corridors. Being the largest medical institution in Korea with a total of 2,700 beds and more than a thousand doctors, it’s easy to say that AMC can boast its major accomplishments over the years.
Having performed 57,000 highly sophisticated surgeries per year, Asan Medical Center (AMC) ranks No. 1 in the number of surgeries of thirty major diseases as well as in the number for six most common cancers and organ transplantation.
The Saudi Arabian trainee doctor greeted me with a warm smile and a firm handshake before we sat down.
Please introduce yourself
|Abulwahab Ali Alshahrani|
This is Doctor Abulwahab Ali Alshahrani and I am a Saudi trainee doctor, doing my clinical fellowship training in Asan Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea. I am doing Hepatobiliary and abdominal organ transplant; kidney and liver transplant for 2 years. Socially I am 31 years old, married and have a son who is 3 years old. I am living here in Seoul since the last year and I have one more year to finish my fellowship. Originally I am from the South region of Saudi Arabia in a city called Abha. I received my studies in the medical college called King Khalid University (KKU) and my residency training program was in the capital region of Riyadh where I received my surgical training in one of the biggest centers in the Middle East which is called KFMC (King Fahad Medical City). After I finished my third year program, I moved to one of the biggest transplant center in our country called KFSH-D (King Fahad Specialist Hospital – Dammam). This was my final step for my education. So after when I finished my training in Seoul, I will go back to KFSH-D Hepatobiliary transplant surgeries there.
Why do you want to study in Korea?
To be honest, our experience in Saudi Arabia in general is influenced by North America’s (USA or Canada). We have been there and dealing with their training for the last 40 years. Most of my seniors received their fellowship training there. But for the last 5 of 6 years we started to attend some of the courses and conferences and heard rumors especially about transplant surgery in Korea. The transplants in Asan Medical Center are recorded to be the best in the world and the outcomes are the finest. My plan was to go to the Western region in Saudi Arabia to take my fellowship there but after my professors visited Asan, attended conferences and procedures hosted by Asan Medical Centers, all of them have advised for me to come to Asan to receive my fellowship here. As I told you, transplant surgery in Asan has the best outcomes from foreign perspective with their advanced procedures and new techniques. In the future I believe that most of our beginner surgeons will evaluate about coming to Seoul for their education.
What are you studying?
What I am now studying is the clinical fellowship which specializes in Hepatobiliary and abdominal organ transplant which is surgery in the liver, kidney and pancreas for adults and pediatric (children). Mainly it is living-related organ transplants which are credited in Asan because most of the countries in the world are taking organs from almost all brain-dead patients. Asan was the same in the past, but most of the procedures recently are from living-related: receiving a living organ from a relative.
Why I came here is even in my country, we are shifting mainly to the living-relat
ed. We used to do Cadaveric as most of our graduates are from the Western region, which is always exclusively using the brain-dead patients, but now our country is similar to Korea: the donations from families is high, legal and religion-wise is allowed. This is why I preferred to come to Seoul. But the pancreas transplant is still from the brain-dead. But Asan is currently having a trail right now to have a living-related pancreas transplant and I am responsible for the research for about 20 patients in Asan which is the highest in the world for living-related pancreas.
Can you describe me your schedule of your daily routine?
We usually start at 7am for a table meeting so we can discuss what we have done from the day before procedures, how the patients are doing and their conditions to almost 8am. After that we do our rounds with our senior consultants, mine is Professor Song-joo Lee. We see our intensive unit critical patients. This is also for one hour: 8 to 9am and this will be the time where we do our surgeries. We typically have a very, very tight schedule for the operations because we have six operation rooms for the liver transplant and another six operation rooms for the Hepatobiliary which is called HBP for short. We have an average of 20-25 procedures per day for both specialties. We averagely finish at about 8pm. Furthermore, I am the representative for Middle Eastern doctors in Korea. We have over 55 doctors so we meet monthly to discuss our training which ranges to about 5 different hospitals around Korea.
Wow, where are your breaks?
We do have one hour breaks from time to time. Most of our days we have Cadaveric procedures from brain-dead patients and we use an ambulance to visit another hospital at night, taking organs from the patients which is called harvesting. This starts at 10pm and finishes at 4 or 5am. If this happens I usually take the morning off on the next day to sleep. This is average of 3 to 5 night per week and it should be mostly attended on the weekends. The reason why is because most of the harvesting is from brain-dead patients from suicide or traffic accidents on the road and these events happen on the weekends. And then at the end of the day I do my closing rounds at 6:30 to 7:30pm.
Because you are Muslim, you usually have to pray 5 times a day so does Asan hospital provide any prayer rooms and breaks for you?
Yes, in the operation rooms we have prayers rooms so we can practice there. Our prayer times are usually fixed in certain times of the day and the hospital staff is flexible and cooperative about it.
How did you apply?
I knew Asan hospital personally by my professors when they visited the center before. I contacted one of the international health workers here in Asan called Dong-gwan Kim who visited us in Saudi Arabia. After I discussed together, he showed me the sites on where to apply and email contacts. So when he came back to Korea I contacted him and through emails I applied for my fellowship. He showed it to Professor Song-joo Lee who accepted me and asked me to join the Korean Medical Website because there was collaboration between the Saudi government and the Korean government for the training of Saudi trainee doctors and it’s a five-year contract.
What is your visa status?
D2 study visa. I have to renew it every 6 months. I initially applied this visa in my home country. After I received my approval, I came here with a temporary visa for 3 months. I visited the immigration office and they gave me my alien registration card with my wife and family. They have the F2 visa which is for families.
How long are you staying in Korea?
I will be in Korea for 27 months and currently I am on my 13th month. And after I will go back to Saudi Arabia to my hospital: KFSH-D to perform the same specialty.
Can you compare your national healthcare with Korea’s? Was there anything you were impressed with?
The Korean healthcare is fantastic. This is why our government made the collaboration and we have an active visiting between Korea and Saudi Minister of Health. Every couple of months, the ministers and physicians visit Korea. We want to transfer the Korean health system experience to our country. The system is an exclusive electronic structure which is covered by insurance for Korean society to maintain proper management. Actually the Korean health system is respectable because they defined the difference of health services so there’s primary, secondary and third tier medical institutions and based on the initial investigation, they will guide you. Most of the difficult cases will be shifted to specialty centers who are experts in this type of procedures. In my opinion, this is the best system because on what you are doing you would receive your promotions from your salary, gifts, awards all from your performance and efforts. Korea also has a lot of advanced technology that can benefit a lot in the boundaries of what only human efforts can do.
How do you have the funds to live in Korea?
My hospital in Saudi Arabia and also the Korean Ministry of Health provides me monthly salary and accommodations. The living costs in Korea is expensive, especially where I live which is in Jamsil. Because of our culture, sometimes it is not easy to find food that suits our needs. We usually do get food from the Middle East like halal meat but it is very expensive compared to other countries. But overall, our life in Korea is very well and we are slowly starting to adapt to Korean food.
How can you communicate with your team? Did you learn Korean?
When you come to Korea you have to spend 12 months to learn the Korean language. This is included in the training to study basic Korean to live in Seoul easier. The main program is about 3 months exclusively about Korean language and culture but the last month it is based at Itaewon about cultural lectures every Friday. It’s part of the collaborations between Korea and Saudi government. After that it is your choice if you want to keep studying or not. But my team talks in English and they can understand me and vice versa.
What do you think will benefit studying in Korea and going back to your country?
Korea exceeds in the surgical field so they have enhanced techniques and approaches with high volume of patients so you can receive extensive training programs. You can see a big variety of cases. You will learn the most difficult cases which you cannot do in other countries because they don’t have experience. So my specialty to living related donors have the highest standards in the world. Korea is very powerful in their research systems and supporting the publications of medical research which shows many medical trails. This is why I think this is the most amazing experience for me.
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