How to Become a Medical Doctor in Korea (7 Steps)

The Republic of Korea commonly referred to as South Korea, is one of the most developed countries in East Asia, and the world. Its capital, Seoul, is the fifth-largest metropolitan area in the world, with over 25 million inhabitants, which is half of Korea’s entire population.

Famous for its high internet speeds, high standards of living, and a very sophisticated high-speed railway system, Korea also attracts a large number of foreigners to live and work in the country. In this article, we will take a look at what steps international doctors or aspiring doctors need to take to become medical professionals in South Korea.

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1. Language requirements for becoming a doctor in Korea

Unless you are already familiar with other East Asian languages such as Chinese or Japanese, learning Korean can prove to be a quite challenging task, but far from impossible. For dedicated beginners, it can take 3 months to get familiar with the language enough to be able to communicate basic things, while reaching fluency in Korean can take up to 2 years of committed study. The first step in learning Korean is to learn the Hangul alphabet, which is very different from Latin and can prove to be quite the challenge, but it is also much less complicated than Chinese.

To qualify for the final exam before you get a medical license, which we will talk about below, you will need to provide a TOPK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) certificate with a score of 5 or higher, which means that learning Korean is mandatory for you to become a doctor in Korea.

2. Study Medicine in Korea if possible

High school students who already have their sight set on working in Korea as a medical doctor, will find it very useful to study medicine in Korea, as it will help them immerse themselves in the language and culture, as well as prepare them for their job. There are 36 colleges in Korea that offer medical degrees. The degrees last for 6 years. The first 2 years involve only undergraduate education, while the next 2 are about basic medical science. In the final 2 years of education, students go through practical/clinical education.

At most colleges, the applying procedure is the same for both Korean and international students, but there are a few that have a separate process for internationals. Some universities have an SAT exam to test the applicants’ proficiency in Korean, as well as TOEFL tests if the applicant graduated from high school in a non-English speaking country. The vas majority of universities, however, have the same process for both Korean and international students, which means that all potential foreign students will have to take the CSAT test that is in Korean and pass it with a better score than their Korean counterparts. This makes it next to impossible for internationals to be accepted to a Korean medical university, and only a few make it each year.

3. Pass the Required Tests and Residency

Before you are qualified to take the final exam, which upon passing will grant you permission to start working as a doctor in Korea, you will need to have graduated with a Korean-approved medical degree. This degree can either come from Korea itself, or from a recognized university abroad. If you are not a graduate of a recognized university, you may need to spend a few extra semesters at a Korean university or take a qualifying exam, before you are eligible to take the final exam. Another test you will need to take before the final exam is called the Preliminary Examination. The Preliminary Exam consists of a written and a clinical skills part and is held twice a year. Additionally, candidates would also have to submit a certificate of TOPIK with a level 5 or higher.

Residency requirements come into effect upon passing the final exam and aspiring doctors are required to spend 1 year as an intern, and 3 or 4 additional years if they wish to specialize in a certain area.

4. Getting a License to Start Practicing

The final exam before you officially become a licensed doctor in Korea is called the KMLE (Korean Medical Licensing Examination). Very few non-Koreans pass this exam, and in some years, that number is zero. The exam takes around a year to prepare for and is taken in Korean, so if your proficiency in the language is not at a near-native level, you probably should focus on that first. Only a few foreign-degree holders manage to pass this exam, while almost everyone who has a Korean medical degree passes it. Just like the Preliminary Exam, the KMLE also consists of a written and practical part.

If you are one of the few lucky ones to pass the final exam, you will be licensed to start working as a medical doctor in Korea, but will still need to complete a one-year internship, as well as additional years of residency for specialization.

5. Getting a Work Visa

If you want to live and work in South Korea, you will need a work visa. The type of visa you need to apply for as a doctor is called the E-5 (Specialty Occupation) visa. However, even with your foreign degree, you will still need to take and pass the KMLE exam to be allowed to work in Korea as a doctor, with very few exceptions. Apart from the KMLE exam, in your documentation for your visa application, you need to include a few more documents, which you can see on the link above.

6. Find Jobs in Korea

With the increasing number of foreign nationals moving to Korea, the demand for international and English speaking staff at hospitals is rising. This could be a great opportunity for doctors to look for and find a job in a Korean hospital. However, to get licensed, to work as a medical doctor in Korea you will need to have a near-native knowledge of the Korean language. You will also need to know Korean to communicate with other staff and patients. The best way to apply for a job is directly on a university hospital or big hospital website. Seoul in particular is a great place to start looking.

Private practitioners are becoming increasingly more prevalent in Korea, as the average wage for those who own their practice nearly doubled over the past 10 years.

7. Procedure for foreign-trained doctors to become a doctor in Korea

The process for foreign doctors to become certified in Korea can be quite lengthy and difficult. First, the person in question will have to possess a medical degree and a doctor’s license from their own country. This will qualify them to take the final KMLE exam. But, if the medical degree is not recognized by the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), candidates will also need to pass a qualification exam, which can take up to 2 years to prepare for. The largest amount of universities recognized by the MOHW are in the US, Germany, UK, Japan, Russia, and a few other countries. Next, the candidate will take the KMLE exam, which is in Korean, and only a few international doctors pass it each year.


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