An Expat`s Guide to Going to the Gyno in Korea
Going to the gynecologist in Korea is a lot like getting your hair cut here. It’s an unknown, which makes it scary. Horror stories abound. You’d rather just wait until you get home. Even if waiting until you get home is an option, there are bound to be vaginal disturbances that will necessitate a doctor’s visit, and if you’re going to be in the ROK for more than a year you shouldn’t skip your annual check-up.
In preparation for this article, I decided I’d have to practice what I’d be preaching. I squared my shoulders, asked around for a female English-speaking doctor for research and for comfort, and off I went.
Unlike most US gynos (my only point of reference), walk-ins are welcome at doctors’ offices in Korea. After giving me a hard time for not knowing Korean, the nurse called her sister in Canada via Skype and we clarified everything I wanted done. PAP and the full panel of STD/STI (성병검사, or sang byeong geom sa) checks. I opted out of the HIV/AIDS tests since I have already had three of them this year for immigration, which were all negative.
I then met with the doctor for a few minutes. She informed me there was a newer, more accurate PAP test called Thin Prep. The test was 20,000 won more than the other test, but I opted for accuracy over cost.
I was then ushered into a little changing room, and that is where the differences between what I was used to and what I was now experiencing began to show. Instead of a scratchy paper dress, I was given a long pink skirt with an elastic band and was told to keep my shirt on.
Instead of a scratchy paper dress I was given a long pink skirt with an elastic band and was told to keep my shirt on. Already I was 100 percent more comfortable knowing that, if there was a fire, I would be leaving the building fully clothed.
Already I was 100 percent more comfortable knowing that, if there was a fire, I would be leaving the building fully clothed. I didn’t have to scramble onto a paper-lined examination table; I sat instead on an electro-hydraulic chair, much like those found in a dentist’s office. The nurse pressed the remote to raise the chair for optimal doctoral viewing. There were no cold metal stirrups; my legs rested high and to the sides in concave calf holders. I was all set.
When the doctor came in, she put a small curtain between us. I was practically fully dressed, relatively comfortable and not staring awkwardly at my doctor while she examined me. The actual testing was the same process as back home: speculum and a warning that I would feel a little discomfort.
When she was finished with the tests, she told me I could get dressed; I was surprised because she hadn’t done a pelvic exam, which is standard with a PAP in the States. I mentioned it and she again gave me two options: a traditional, manual pelvic exam or an ultrasound, which provides more accuracy. I opted for the ultrasound and she then turned a little monitor towards me. The ultrasound wand was less invasive than the speculum and while examining me the doctor directed my attention to the monitor to look at my ovaries and uterus, not simply telling me, but showing me, that they all looked healthy.
After the exam, I got dressed and spoke with the doctor for a few minutes. The nurse took a quick blood sample for the rest of my tests, and that was it. The entire visit, Thin Prep, STI/STD panel and a pelvic, without insurance, cost 120,000 won. Compared to US prices ($175-$500 on average) it was a bargain; compared to countries with functioning universal health care it was highway robbery. I was incredibly impressed by the technology, comfort and ease of the visit.
The gyno in Korea has been faced. Now, if only I were brave enough to get my hair cut.
What tests and medications are available?
All the treatments that are available back home are available here; only the process for them is different.
How can I get Birth Control Pills (경구피임약)?
Birth control is sold over the counter in pharmacies, but this may change soon, making a prescription necessary.
Where do I get medication for a yeast infection (질염)?
You must see a doctor to get treatment or a prescription.
Where do I get medication for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI, 요로감염)?
You must see a doctor for treatment. Be sure to specify that it is a UTI, otherwise they may assume that the burning pain is from an STI.
Are IUDs (자궁내장치) available?
IUDs are available as another birth control option.
Is medication for the herpes simplex virus (헤르페스약) available?
For those suffering from herpes, Valtrex is not readily available, but there is a generic version that is.
Is abortion (임신중절) legal?
Abortion is illegal in South Korea; however, there are still hospitals that perform the procedure.
How can I get Plan B (사후피임약)?
The “Morning After Pill”, which my doctor referred to as the “Emergency Pill”, is also available with a prescription and you don’t have to wait for an “emergency” to arise, she gave me a script for it in advance.
What else should I know?
As with any doctor visit, be honest and advocate for yourself. If you want a specific medication or a different dosage, ask for it, and your doctor will be able to look up anything you need. Don’t take the first answer you are given; if it is important, then tell the doctor why. They are not unreasonable. Be specific when discussing what you want; for instance, don’t assume that when you say “PAP” it includes a pelvic exam (골반검진).
Further Reading: The Empowerment of the Pill in Korea (Haps)