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Reflections on South Korea From a Poison Control Official’s Perspective

Published: May 3, 2013 By: Robert Coon
Jay Schauben, third from right, said he formed new friendships during his professional visit to South Korea in February. View Larger Image

Jay Schauben, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT, director of the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center–Jacksonville and president-elect of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, was invited to speak at a February conference in South Korea by the country’s Ministry of Health.

Q: Where did you visit? Was there anything different about your accommodations than what you’re used to?

A: At my accommodations in downtown Seoul, although within a hotel chain familiar to us in the U.S. (Ramada), there was clearly an Asian flavor to the decorum of the facility. First, the rooms are much smaller than standard U.S. hotel rooms, as I was told space is at a premium. I was most impressed with the level of automation that appears to be standard in most hotel rooms. The “smart systems” use wall-mounted LCD screens to control all lighting, temperature and TV settings. Your room key card activates all your settings; likewise, when you retrieve your key to leave, it shuts everything down and reduces temperature to a standard minimum. Very energy efficient!

Q: To what degree did it appear that South Korea has been influenced by Western culture?

A: You can see the familiar McDonald’s and other fast food chains, among other Western influences. But at its heart, their culture predominates in almost everything you see and hear.

Q: Did you have a chance to immerse yourself in any of the culture? How did you like it?

A: Korea University Medical Library has a section devoted to a South Korean cultural and art exhibit. The symposium’s invited guests were treated to a tour. Although we spent only a few hours there, it was enough to gain new knowledge and respect for the Koreans’ history and their intrinsic art forms. Our hosts arranged a traditional, Korean family-style dinner at a restaurant in old Seoul. Although I am accustomed to using chopsticks in the U.S., in Korea they use metal chopsticks that took me a little while to get used to. I actually had much more trouble sitting on the floor for two hours! I tried all foods offered and asked them to tell me what it was only AFTER I tried it. This was a good decision, as knowledge about some of the dishes probably would have prevented me from tasting them as freely as I did! I found there is much ceremony displayed when drinking Korean wine in a social situation, especially when toasting one another. On a subsequent evening, our host took us to a Korean-Chinese restaurant to try food I have not seen in Chinese restaurants here. Both events were totally enjoyable and provided me a welcome rest from my more traditional Western appetite.

Q: What impressed you while you were there? Was there anything that surprised you?

A: I was most impressed with the respect and dignity with which they treat one another. Outside of the host-visitor relationship where you would expect this, I observed inherently similar paradigms amongst everyone when touring the medical school, their medical center and in normal daily life. I experienced the same from our Chinese and Japanese invited speakers. It was very contagious, and I wish I could bring that home. With all the effort we put into enhancing our customer service at Shands Jacksonville, I wondered how we could manage to import this philosophy into our lives here. By far, this was the most distinctive difference noticed and I found myself mildly jealous at times that we do not imbed this in our own treatment of each other in the U.S.

Q: Professionally, how did their poison center system strike you? How much do they have to learn from us? What can you take back from them?

A: I had the chance to listen to others and discuss the poison center paradigms active in Japan, China and the U.S. South Korea is attempting to enhance its current chemical surveillance program into a fully operational poison center system. This international symposium was meant to help the country decide which model would work best for it. Poison centers are not universally created from the same mold. My job was to represent and explain the model used in the 57 poison centers in the U.S. There were considerable questions directed to me about how we provide patient care and public health services at our poison centers, which resulted in significant dialogue on how each model could be used to best serve South Korea’s residents.

Q: Will you make an effort to return, either professionally or personally?

A: Although we started out as invited colleagues, I firmly believe we moved to more personal relationships during the trip. It is clear that our South Korean hosts are interested in continued dialogue and as a representative of both the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center and the American Association of Poison Control Centers, I will offer my help in their quest. I would feel very comfortable calling on my newfound friends in Korea, Japan and China for future collaborations, as we have a common thread in our purpose. Since we do our jobs a little differently, it is beneficial to discuss other options and be open to new ideas. It is my hope that I will be asked to return to continue assisting in their endeavor.

Jay Schauben, third from right, said he formed new friendships during his professional visit to South Korea in February.

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