JongWook Oh, a 24-year-old medical student from Wonju, South Korea, considers the chance to spend a month in rotation with Carilion Clinic physicians and Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine faculty an “opportunity of a lifetime.”

Oh, who is visiting from Yonsei University Wonju College of Medicine, is the first medical exchange student between the Roanoke Valley and its seven sister cities. Next month, two students from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine will take part in a month-long rotation to Wonju. Founded in 1956, Sister Cities International’s mission is to “advance peace and prosperity through cultural, educational, humanitarian, and economic development exchanges.” Today there are 2,400 partnerships in 134 different countries.

“International exchanges like this one are important in our understanding that the practice of medicine is a global pursuit,” said Dr. Cynda Johnson, dean of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine. “The way we do things here may be different from the way things are done 7,000 miles away in Wonju, but we can learn from each other, and that’s what Sister City diplomacy is all about. It’s an honor for us to be part of the first medical student exchange between Roanoke and Wonju.”

Spending two weeks with Dr. Franco Coniglione in orthopaedics and two weeks with Dr. Edmundo Rubio in pulmonary medicine, Oh said he’s up for the challenge of learning new things and living on his own in a country where he’s still mastering the language.

“No pain, no gain,” he said with a grin. “I expected it to be hard, but the challenge will make me a much better person and a better doctor. I was born in Korea, have lived in Korea, studied in Korea, and will probably live in Korea most of my life. As awkward as it may seem for a guy like me to apply for a program abroad, I thought the opportunity would build my character and knowledge.”

When asked for any major differences in medical care he had observed so far, Oh answered without hesitation.

“Here, health care professionals seem to work with pleasure, and it shows on their faces when they talk to their patients,” he said. “In my country, doctors see so many patients that it is hard for them to enjoy what they are doing.”

Oh said under Korea’s national health plan, one doctor might see as many as a hundred patients in a day; patients are generally seen for no more than five minutes.

He said he also observed more of a teamwork approach here than in the hospitals and clinics back home where doctors dictate orders, and other health care workers have little, if any, input.

After one more year in medical school, Oh will move into an internship and then residency. He hopes to practice orthopaedics.

“I wanted to see American medicine because I think it is the best,” Oh said. “I am so grateful for this opportunity.”

By Catherine Doss