Challenges Experienced By North Korean Refugee Doctors in Acquiring a Medical License in South Korea: A Qualitative Analysis

Shin Ha, Hui Ran Choi, Jong Koo Lee, Yo Han Lee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction:In general, refugee doctors encounter difficulties in regularly practicing medicine in their host countries. In particular, many barriers impede the efforts of North Korean refugee doctors (NKRDs) who have settled in South Korea to acquire a medical license in the country. This study examines the experiences and opinions of NKRDs in their attempts to acquire permission to legally practice medicine in South Korea and the opinions of South Korean experts regarding this matter.Methods:In-depth interviews were conducted among 23 participants divided into 2 groups. The first group comprised 16 NKRDs recruited through snowball sampling, whereas the second group included 7 South Korean doctors experienced in operating programs assisting NKRDs in license acquisition.Results:All participating NKRDs perceived that they face grave difficulties at every stage of acquiring a South Korean medical license and, particularly, in gaining recognition for their educational credentials. Furthermore, South Korean experts expressed the necessity of supporting, establishing, and expanding a system in the country whereby NKRDs can acquire a medical license.Discussion:Strengthening and changing their clinical competency to meet South Korean standards is the best option for NKRDs to acquire a medical license. Furthermore, the study reveals that the government should eliminate the obstacles in medical license acquisition by NKRDs and support the latter in their efforts to improve and demonstrate their competency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-118
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019


  • North Korea
  • medical education
  • medical license
  • refugee doctor

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