Y.K. Kim1, H.W. Tchah2, J.S. Lee3, W.D. Kim3, and K.Y. Kim4

Departments of Microbiology1, Ophthalmology2, Internal Medicine3, and Orthopedic Surgery4

University of Ulsan College of Medicine, Asan Medical Center
Seoul, 138-040, Korea

(02) 480-4503
82 (02) 480-4550

The education in basic medical sciences makes up a major portion of the preclinical coursework in the medical education and is the prerequisite for the subsequent clinical training. The quality of teaching in the basic medical sciences can often be the index of the level which a nation’s medical education is at.

The Korean medical education system started approximately 100 years ago. Around this time Western clinical medicine, along with the Western culture, was introduced to Korea through China or through the missionaries from the United States and Europe. However, a formal medical education did not begin until the 1920’s when many vocational medical schools were established throughout the country. The education system during this period was largely influenced by that of Germany and Japan. Later the United States military, which ruled over Korea briefly from 1945, brought in the American system, based on which new medical schools were founded. Only after this period of modifications was a systematic medical curriculum formally established.

As of 1994, approximately 3,000 medical students graduate from the total of 32 colleges every year. While these schools differ in their educational objectives, historical backgrounds and teaching environments, we have collected and analyzed data on their current curriculum. Although these data are quite superficial, they might provide an index to the present status of the education in basic medical sciences in Korea. In this report we discuss the present status and the prospects of the education in basic medical sciences in Korea.


A 6 year post-high school medical curriculum consisting of 2 years of premedical courses, 2 years of basic medical sciences and 2 years of clinical training has been adopted as the prototype in all medical schools in Korea. Recently, however, two schools including ours are moving towards reorganizing their curriculum according to the integrative program similar to those of McMaster and Calgary in Canada and Harvard in the United States.

Types of Departments or Courses

Over 80% of the medical schools in Korea offer basic science courses such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, microbiology, parasitology and preventive medicine. Some also offer forensic medicine, genetics, and hospital administration. On the average, 8 of the above courses are being offered by a given school.

Number of Full Time Faculty

As of March 1992, the number of full time faculty members in the total of 32 medical schools was 722. Table I shows the numbers of teaching staff in various departments. They vary widely among the schools and overall have not reached the minimum required by the Korean Ministry of Education. Although the medical faculty traditionally consisted of M.D.’s, the number of faculty holding a Ph.D. degree in natural sciences other than medicine is increasing recently.

Table I: The numbers of full time faculty in various departments

Department -Faculty (Medical Doctors)

Anatomy-100 (64)
Physiology- 83 (62)
Biochemistry- 86 (52)
Pathology-104 (103)
Pharmacology- 79 (59)
Microbiology- 84 (65)
Parasitology- 39 (28)
Preventive Medicine -129 (107)
Miscellaneous- 18 (9)

TOTAL722 (549)

Teaching Hours

The numbers of lecture hours and laboratory sessions again vary greatly in different schools. The mean average and standard deviations of teaching hours are presented in Figure I. (NOTE: Figure I no longer available) Most of these courses, except for preventive medicine and pathology, are offered during the third or fourth year of the 6-year curriculum. Some schools also offer gross anatomy (45.2%), histology (25.8%), physiology (19.4%), biochemistry (35.5%), and medical history (35.5%) during the second year.


Most medical textbooks currently used are written in the Korean language (preventive medicine, 100%; pathology, 82.6%; microbiology, 78.6%; biochemistry 78.6%; and pharmacology 75.0%). However, some schools teach using English, or both Korean and English, textbooks. Almost all the laboratory manuals currently used are in Korean, quite a few of which are prepared by the teaching staff of the respective schools.


Laboratory facilities, medical library and animal facilities for basic medical science education in Korean medical schools are as follows. Among the different courses, gross anatomy shows the highest percentage (100%) in having an assigned laboratory space for its sole use, whereas only 23.3% of the others do. These other courses are either sharing a space with one or more courses or using a common laboratory space allotted for all the courses.

Among the 32 medical schools, 26 operate a separate medical library, while the other 5 share the main library on campus with other colleges. Facilities for animal breeding and experiments are currently being utilized by 24 schools. Eighteen out of the 32 schools (56%) are also equipped for production of audiovisual materials.

As shown above, the current condition of the education in basic medical sciences is quite poor in Korea compared to the more developed countries in its facilities and faculty number. However, from the 1970’s on, there has been a continuous demand for higher quality medical services, accompanied by the rapid economical growth in Korea. The Korean government as well as the medical schools have been thus focusing on improving the quality of the medical education system, especially that of the clinical medicine. This in fact has been quite successfully implemented.

However, in this technologically competitive society of today, limitations will be inevitably confronted under the current patient-oriented medical policy alone, unless it is accompanied by the development of an independent and strong education system in the basic medical sciences. Hence it has been recognized by the medical administrators and policy makers that improvement of the basic medical science education in both quality and quantity is essential at this point in time. Towards this end, the Korean Ministry of Education, in collaboration with the Association of the Deans of Medical Schools and the Korean Association for Medical Education, is planning to extensively evaluate all medical schools in 1995. Based on the data obtained from this evaluation, the Korean government and medical schools will gradually expand their faculty number and improve teaching facilities. Some schools are also beginning to adopt the education system which integrates the basic and clinical medical sciences, according to the recent trend worldwide. In this regard, the Korean education system in basic medical sciences is at its turning point for a dramatic transformation. It is hoped that with continued recognition of the need for improvement and investment into the basic medical science, high quality medical personnel will be soon produced in Korea who are capable of contributing to the development of medical sciences as a whole in the coming century.


1.A report on the present status of basic medical education. 1993. The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences.

2.Yoon, S.D. 1992. How to improve premedical course education. Korean J. of Medical Education 4: 2.

3.The present status of medical education. 1992. The Korean Association for Medical Education.

4.Modern history of medicine in Korea. 1988. The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences.

5.The present status of the basic medical science departments. 1993. The Korean Academy of Medical Sciences.