Columbia University ‘20
On Thursday, June 13th, the Global Affairs interns traveled to Jaseng’s herbal dispensary. While I’ve had relatively little experience with herbal medication, I had previously observed the care and attention administered by the medical staff at Jaseng hospital. Through this experience, I knew that not only would I learn about the intricate process of producing herbal medications, but I would also see that same conscientiousness integral to Jaseng’s mission.
Because we were amongst many new employees including nursing staff from a variety of Jaseng hospitals touring the dispensary, our tour guide emphasized the importance of being able to explain the process of making herbal medications to patients. This message framed the entire day, as our tour guide reminded the staff of potential patient questions and provided insightful answers. As we sipped our herbal tea, we were given an overview of the day, equipped with gowns, and began the tour.
We moved to observe around eight pharmacists who were busy at work preparing ingredients for that day’s medications. We watched them hand pick and measure each component, and our tour guide explained the magnitude of prescriptions they had to fill. This dispensary–one of three in Korea–filled most of the prescriptions for the greater Seoul area. While one might expect that the medications are pre-made, the pharmacists make new prescriptions for each patient per the doctor’s orders. Not only does this ensure the freshness of each ingredient, but it also contributes to Jaseng’s focus on each patient as an individual; since one’s health and body are unique to themselves, one’s treatment plan and medication should be as well. Even with this individual focus, Jaseng delivers medications in a one-day process to ensure that no patient is suffering through pain unnecessarily.
The storage and weighing room combined both modern and traditional pharmacy procedures. After receiving a prescription electronically, pharmacists hurried to measure ingredients from a traditional wooden cabinet. These herbs and natural products include many traditional medications, but many of them are shipped from other countries to ensure the highest quality product. For example, deer antlers are a common ingredient that is mostly found in Russia; Jaseng ships these antlers to their dispensaries so that the finest products are used and produced. The upper antlers will eventually be included in a medication called Yookgongdan, which has been shown to improve memory and increase brain function in an international journal. The ingredients are stored in a temperature and humidity controlled room, protecting them from potential decay. Additionally, the pharmacists meticulously choose each ingredient so that there are no heavy metals or pesticides in the finished product.
After the pharmacists finish weighing the ingredients, the individual bag of herbs is transported to be made into either capsule or liquid medication. The liquid medication is made by boiling the herbs with distilled water through a complex system of pipes that ensures cleanliness and sanitation. The medication is then inserted into easy to use pouches so that it can be easily transported and consumed. To be certain there are no mix-ups, each medication is checked three times.
The capsule medication is made in a separate room for two types of medication.Gwanjulgo, for example, is a medication that helps restore cartilage and alleviate arthritis pain. Made from ginseng and other herbal ingredients, Gwanjulgo is aged, ground into a powder, and then made into a dough. After it is fully ripened, the medicine is wrapped in a special foil–the machine was only recently made–and is ready to be consumed.
Other pills are made after their components are ground into powder and then mixed by an automatic machine to form their pill shape. After being sugar coated, the pills can be dried and packaged. All of these processes are done with care and attention, ensuring that the product remains sanitary and correct. Even after the pills are finished being packaged, they are weighed again to ensure the right medication reaches the right patient. Each morning, a team of deliverers takes the newly made medications and delivers through the country to hospitals, pharmacies, and homes; not only do these workers travel early to reach all patients, but they are equipped to answer any questions patients may have.
This tour opened my eyes not only to the sanitation and speed with which the medications are produced, but also to herbal medication’s wide efficacy. Watching each prescription be filled demonstrated the variety of uses that herbal medication provides and the tour revealed the strong scientific background behind each of these products. Perhaps most strikingly, however, was the attention to individuals and their health. While producing medication for people around the country, each case and each patient was uniquely cared for.