▲ (Left) With the children during the volunteering activities(2004)
▲ (Right)At the Opening Ceremony of the Cancer Prevention Clinic(2012)
Professor Sung Sunwoo used to pack his luggage three times a year before the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak to treat patients in underdeveloped countries, and this passion for people extends in his clinic as well. His experience on how he shared health and life with patients with chronic disease at AMC Lifetime Health Clinic is elaborated below.
Resumption of AMC Medical Volunteers
I think it may take some time before things can get back on track because AMC Medical Volunteers activities have ceased for quite a long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to resume volunteer work some time in autumn this year. It was the recommendation of Professor Seongsoo Jang of the Department of Laboratory Medicine which urged me into overseas medical volunteering. We organized AMC Medical Volunteers, a medical volunteer team, and our first destination was Cambodia in 2004. Then, we went out every year to Laos, Indonesia, Nepal, Greece, and other countries. Mr. Han-su Kim of Medical Contents Center took care of the overall operation, and other hospital staffs participated using their annual leaves and out-of-pocket expenses. I did not feel comfortable putting the burden on the staffs, so I met Professor Byeong Sik Kim who was the Vice President & Chief Education Officer then and asked for support. I was backed up by Asan Foundation’s founding philosophy of ‘helping the underprivileged of our society.’ That was when we received support for one-way flight tickets and medical drug expenses.
Whenever I go volunteering, I am always rewarded with patients’ gratitude for even the smallest help. This wonderful experience reminds me why I became a doctor in the first place. I would meet around 400 patients during a short volunteer trip and up to 1,300 patients when long. I have also been to remote areas I have never heard of in 14 years of my service as a doctor. Some people have doubts about volunteer activities abroad, but we cannot just wait until the health care system of a country is established. We have to do what we can do now.
Patient that particularly remains in your memory
I once met a patient with a fatty tumor on his back over 20 centimeters in size and heard he had never been able to lie in bed straight. There was also a patient, suffering from chronic osteomyelitis, who was on the verge of arm amputation. She was invited to Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Korea and returned home safely after successful treatment. Later, she sent me a photo holding her son and another one sitting behind the wheel. Though it may seem ordinary, we know how happy she was because it was her lifelong dream to hold her son and also be able to drive.
I once happened to remove a bandage of a patient with cataract who was treated by Professor Hungwon Tchah of the Department of Ophthalmology. The patient thanked me so much for the treatment. He thought I was Professor Hungwon Tchah because he/she could not see before. I did not want to correct his misunderstanding (laugh).
Various roles at the University of Ulsan College of Medicine
I find such a joy in mingling with students. Whenever there is a get-together, I am one of those who stays until the end. Professor Won Dong Kim who was the Dean at the time saw how I liked students and assigned me as the dormitory housemaster. I often discussed dormitory issues such as room allocation with the chairperson of the dormitory’s self-governing committee who is now Professor Changhoon Yoo of the Division of Oncology. I met Professor Eun-Jae Lee of the Department of Neurology when he used to date one of my students. I am nowadays quite happy to see the students from the University Of Ulsan College Of Medicine playing active part in their current positions.
I also led the campus film club called ‘Holchim,’ which is an acronym in Korean meaning Hollywood Invasion. What an ambitious name! I even play a cameo role in the club’s short film every year. I also provided support by donating a microphone I bought to interview my patients. I was the homeroom professor for the Class of 2011 and meet them annually to share our life stories.
▲ (Left) During Teacher’s Day (front-row second from the left)(2013)
▲ (Right) With the presenters of a conference held in Rio, Brazil (first from the right)(2016)
Opening of AMC Lifetime Health Clinic and establishing the role of a family doctor
The clinic opened on June 2nd, 1995. I remember the date exactly because Sampoong Department Store collapsed that month. I was assigned to the site to check on the health conditions of the volunteers. AMC Lifetime Health Clinic is a family doctor model which serves the original purpose of the Department of Family Medicine. The clinic was set up mostly around screening at first, but we turned to chronic diseases allowing to expand periodic care management and physician role. Now that some 30 years have passed, we start to see patients who pass away. It hurts as much as the length of our relationship. This never crossed my mind when I was young.
Still, I think I made a good choice to devote my life as a doctor to primary care. It is really rewarding to detect cancer at an early stage or see a patient quit smoking. We also launched the Cancer Prevention Clinic in 2011 for patients who require follow-up care after cancer treatment.
Know-hows in approaching the patients
Since I have been sick here and there, I am able to share with my experience of cancer surgery and changes in my body due to drug side effects. To patients who do not want to take blood pressure pills, I tell them, “I have been taking the pills for 20 years since I was 40,” to persuade them. Then the patients acclaim, “You should stay healthy to take care of me!”
I think spending long hours listening to what patients have to say helped to notice a patient with depression claiming to have physical symptoms and give a hand to a patient who could not be treated in many other medical institutions. I always feel apologetic to the nurses who work with me. Nevertheless, I feel I did the right thing to become a doctor of Family Medicine when patients are thankful to be here. Everything has been possible because of my love for the humankind.