Report: Korean Tour Academic Exchange Programme

The inaugural edition of the prestigious EAU-KUA Academic Exchange Programme took place last October. This two-week programme, jointly organised by the European Association of Urology (EAU) and the Korean Association of Urology (KUA), aimed to facilitate the international exchange of urological medical skills, scientific expertise, and knowledge.

Tue, 20 Feb 2024 • Dr. Su Jung OH (DE), and Dr. Laura Mertens (NL)
EducationKUAScholarship ProgrammeEAU EUSP Office

We embarked on a journey to Seoul, South Korea and visited two distinguished Korean institutions: the Samsung Medical Center and the Asan Medical Center. The culmination of the Academic Programme awaited at the 75th KUA Annual Meeting.

Introduction to South Korea

Officially known as the Republic of Korea, South Korea occupies the southern part of the Korean Peninsula, and is characterised by a rich cultural heritage, along with advanced technological infrastructure and a highly developed economy. Comparable to Hungary in size, South Korea is home to approximately 52 million people, with around 25% of the population residing in the capital city of Seoul.

The surging interest in Korea, fuelled by the popularity of contemporary K-pop icons such as BTS and PSY (‘Gangnam Style’) and K-drama, positions Europe as an emerging market for this cultural phenomenon. This interest serves as a catalyst to also explore the urological landscape of South Korea and strengthen collaborative ties between European urologists and Korean colleagues. Equipped with various new smartphone apps, such as Kakao Talk and Naver (replacing WhatsApp and Google Maps respectively), we initiated our programme under the careful curation of the International Committee of the KUA.

Established in 1945, the KUA, currently led by Prof. Jun Hyuk Hong, boasts a membership of approximately 3,000 urologists. Throughout the programme, we were warmly welcomed by the KUA members, particularly the hosts representing two of Korea’s prominent hospitals, both ranking among the top 10 cancer centres worldwide.

Samsung Medical Center

The programme commenced with a visit to the Samsung Medical Center in Gangnam, Seoul. Structured around a “patient-oriented” concept and backed by the prominent global corporation Samsung, which plays a pivotal role in various sectors of the Korean industry, including engineering, construction, information technology, and research, this hospital may stand out as one of the most technologically advanced medical centres worldwide.

We received a warm welcome, including an overwhelmingly large personalised welcome message on the screen above the main entrance, from the staff led by Prof. Seo Seong Il. Prof. Minyong Kang put a tremendous effort in organising a comprehensive programme for our visit. We had the privilege of observing (robotic) surgeries performed by highly skilled staff, who were eager to share their knowledge. Additionally, we participated in educational sessions for the residents and attended a lab meeting with staff and researchers of the Genomics & Precision Oncology Laboratory.

Engaging in discussions on recent research projects about the establishment of patient-derived cancer organoids, the dynamic interactions with research students and PhD fellows were the highlights of our stay at Samsung Medical Center.

The Research Institute for Future Medicine of the Samsung Medical Center had an impressive scope and infrastructure. Various R&D platforms and Core Centers, such as the Precision Medicine Research Institute, the Samsung Genome institute, the Animal Research and Molecular Imaging Centers, and the Biobank were equipped with state-of-the-art technology. The high-quality facilities of the institute impressed us and spared hopes for potential cross-border (cross-continental) collaborations.

Asan Medical Center
Our second destination was the Asan Medical Center. Prof. Hyung Keun Park of the urology department and our host, Prof. Juhyun Park, supervised the visit.

As the largest hospital in South Korea and the second-largest medical centre in Asia, the Asan Medical Center holds a distinguished reputation. Founded by the owner of Hyundai, a key player in the country's corporate landscape akin to Samsung, the founder’s vision aimed at providing optimal medical care for the Korean population. This vision was realised through attracting employees with competitive salaries and benefits for employees, and state-of-the-art diagnostic and therapeutic equipment. Although the founder has passed away, his legacy continues to foster high employee satisfaction. The warm and welcoming atmosphere in the hospital was immediately apparent, and employees seemed to take great pride in their work.

The amiable Prof. Park guided us through the expansive building complexes, including 70 operating rooms. Given the hospital’s substantial size and patient concentration, the daily patient volume and staff workload are considerable. Nevertheless, the impressive efficiency observed throughout the hospital, especially in the operating room where teams seamlessly executed complex operations without any unnecessary talking, exemplifies the opportunities to improve urologic healthcare through effective teamwork.

Despite the demanding environment, there was a notable focus on discussions regarding work-life balance, recognising the renowned Korean work ethic and the significant pressure on the younger generation. While long working days were standard, efforts were made to support work-life balance, including amenities such as in-house personal training, swimming facilities, and massage services for the employees. This commitment reflects a tangible effort to enhance the well-being of the medical staff and promote a healthy professional environment.

The 75th KUA Annual Meeting
The grand finale of our EAU-KUA Academic Exchange awaited us at the KUA annual meeting, a special edition marking the 75th anniversary of the association. The event featured high-level local research and numerous international keynote lectures, including those by EAU representatives Prof. Jens Sønksen (DK) and Prof. Lars Dyrskjøt Andersen (DK).

The meeting had a strong educational focus, with a significant role for residents. During the Presidential Dinner and International Leadership Dinner, we had the privilege to connect not only with many Korean urologists but also with representatives from virtually all international urological associations. Networking with renowned urologists from around the world enriched our knowledge and broadened our perspectives.

Other highlights
Beyond urology, we gained insights into the Korean healthcare system and discovered their unique healthcare culture, where hospitals do not only treat diseases but also manage funeral arrangements – a novel aspect for us as Europeans.

Notably, we observed a strong emphasis on diversity and inclusion in urology. During our time at the Samsung Medical Center and the Asan Medical Center, the scarcity of women in the field received considerable attention (only Asan Medical Center had a female urologist, Prof. Cherin Song). Unlike in the Netherlands, where over half of the residents are female, South Korea almost had no female residents. This issue was specifically addressed in a session at the KUA, where we were extensively interviewed on this topic.

The warm hospitality of the locals, evident in receptions within hospitals and team dinners at
splendid locations throughout Seoul, was one of the top highlights of our stay. They also provided us with insights into the country’s background and history, acknowledging the complex geopolitical reality where there is still no official peace treaty ending the war in Korea. The contrast between daily life in Seoul and the situation observed in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is surreal.

On a different note, we cherished unique experiences gained; notably, being welcomed as unofficial guest members of the exclusive Seoul National University Alumni association.

Furthermore, Prof. Jae Young Park and Prof. Juhyun Park immersed us in an impromptu experience that is deeply ingrained into the Korean culture: the Noraebang (karaoke). It is a cultural activity, which should not be underestimated, where every effort made to deliver a vibrant performance (both professors were unparalleled). This joyous occasion not only united the participants, but also fostered camaraderie among diverse affiliations through South Korean entertainment art.

Conclusions and future prospects

This EAU-KUA Academic Exchange Programme gave us a transformative experience which provided profound insights into the world of Korean urology through surgical observations, scientific engagements, cultural immersion, exposure to warm Korean hospitality, and invaluable networking opportunities. The connections and friendships established during this visit are tremendously valuable, fostering collaborations between the European and Korean urological associations.

Our sincere gratitude goes to all who were involved in organising this programme, with special thanks to the KUA (including its board, organising committee and office (Mrs. Ellie Han)), the local hosts, departments and hospitals, and the EAU (including its board, selection committee, and Mrs. Ilse Grotenbreg of the EAU Academic Exchange Programme).

Looking ahead, we eagerly anticipate welcoming the South Korean fellows into our European programme to further cultivate a long-lasting and fruitful collaboration.


This article first appeared in the January/February 2024 edition of European Urology Today.