During the winter of my senior year at Columbia University, I interned at Jaseng Hospital of Korean Medicine to gain a deeper perspective on integrative and Eastern medicine. To understand the mindset with which I approached my experience at Jaseng, the following is a brief summary of my background. The past three generations of my family have been composed of traditional Chinese medicine doctors. I spent most of my childhood in my family’s traditional Chinese medicine practice in the US and saw on a daily basis the beneficial and often miracle-like effects that Eastern medicine can have. Unlike most people, who are unfamiliar with Eastern medicine and have not had the opportunities to see with their own eyes the significant effects it can have, I did not grow up as a skeptic. However, given its history, which spans thousands of years, I assumed that everything that could have possibly been discovered had already been observed. I pictured it as a well-established, mature medicine, one that had already reached its peak and could no longer be improved upon or advanced. Western medicine, in contrast, felt like Eastern medicine’s fiery younger brother, defined by an undeterred drive for scientific advancement and innovation and with significantly more room to grow. It wasn’t until my internship at Jaseng that I began realizing first-hand not only the vast room for innovating within Eastern medicine but also the immense potential of integrative medicine that surpasses that of Western or Eastern medicine alone.
While I interned for the Office of International Affairs, I spent a significant amount of time shadowing founder and chairman Dr. Joon-Shik Shin and other doctors in the International Health Clinic, observing Jaseng’s scientific and innovative treatment methods. Jaseng pairs Western medicine’s strong suit—diagnostic methods such as MRI and CT scans—with unique Eastern treatments. For example, Motion-Style Acupuncture Treatment (MSAT) relieves muscle spasms to control pain and restore physiological function by applying acupuncture to specific acupoints and then engaging the patient in active motion. How do the effects of MSAT manifest? Patients brought into the examination room, initially unable to walk without assistance, are able to march out of Jaseng on their own half an hour after receiving MSAT. This video gives a glimpse into MSAT’s incredible effectiveness and the emotionally moving impact it has on both the patients and doctors working together to improve patients’ quality of life. Shinbaro Pharmacopuncture, which contains an herbal medicine mixture optimized to have anti-inflammatory and nerve and cartilage-regenerating effects and significantly reduced side effects, is an herbal injection solution developed by Jaseng and delivered to relevant acupoints directly at the site of the problem. As a combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment, it is a more direct, innovative advancement of traditional acupuncture. Although I had grown up with acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine, never before had I seen—much less thought of—such a creative treatment that combined acupuncture and efficient herbal medication delivery. MSAT and Shinbaro are only two of many of Jaseng’s unique treatment methods that proved that Eastern medicine still has significant potential to further evolve and that it is backed by solid scientific evidence, much of which has yet to be uncovered.
Jaseng’s drive for constant innovation makes it particularly special, but the quality I came to value the most in Jaseng is that it is a human-centric hospital network that sees patients first and foremost as people and puts people above all else. The patient case that impacted me the most during my internship did not require any of Jaseng’s revolutionary treatments. Instead, it taught me the value of paying attention to each patient’s story. A young man in his mid-twenties with an awkward gait, inexplicable to any of the Western medical hospitals he and his parents visited, came to Jaseng in the hopes that we could figure out what the problem was and how to best treat him. His case was especially strange. His CT scan showed nothing out of the ordinary. Further physical examination showed that his pelvis and legs were completely normal. But his awkward movements were undeniable and seemed to have no pathological explanation. The doctor began to ask questions, not about his body, but about his life. We learned that he had suffered immense stress from studying abroad and associated culture shock. Instead of taking the time to mentally recover after returning home to Korea, he immediately enlisted in the military. Upon hearing his story, we realized that the source of the problem was not with his physical body. Instead, it was years of crippling mental and emotional stress that accumulated over time and eventually crippled his body. His recommended treatment? At least a year of complete rest and letting himself freely answer to his casual whims and desires. The source of his problem was his mind, confirming that the body is an integrative unit consisting of mind, body, and spirit. It was only natural that his healing process begin with his mind. This process would not have occurred—and did not occur—at a hospital that did not focus on seeing patients as people before reducing them into a list of diseases and ailments. Acknowledging the relationship between mind and body and each individual’s self-healing power is what allowed Jaseng to pinpoint and treat not only this young man’s but countless other people’s health problems. In my own experience, a visit to the dispensary where most of the herbal medications are made showed that Jaseng prioritizes patient trust by adhering to the highest quality control standards for their medicine’s safety and efficacy. Working with others throughout my internship who were just as passionate and inspired by Jaseng’s approach to medicine helped me realize that its success rests on the shoulders of its human-centric values.
These values permeated through our daily work by dictating the directions our team decided to take. When reaching out to US institutions to establish partnerships for laying the foundation for future integrative medicine collaborations, we sought professors, researchers, and doctors in the US who demonstrated that their values aligned with ours. When planning events and strategizing to achieve specific goals, such as receiving NIH funding, we took particular care to showcase these values alongside the science and innovation behind Eastern and integrative medicine. The lessons I learned and the skills I acquired at Jaseng do not end with the the completion of my internship. Jaseng’s maintained success has given me significant insight into the impact innovative integrative medicine can have beyond just Korea. My time at Jaseng has gifted me with the specific goal of shaping a world that embraces the collective advancement of any type of medicine, Eastern or Western, with scientifically proven efficacy and effectiveness. It is our hope that one day the phrase “integrative medicine” becomes redundant and obsolete under the umbrella of simply “medicine,” characterized anew by more broadly accepting and human-centric characteristics.
Columbia University, New York, USA