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Educational Development of Health Professionals Rehabilitation and Transformation After the Colonial Period and the Korean War: The Minnesota Project

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Educational Development of Health Professionals

Sub-Theme 1 | Rehabilitation and Transformation After the Colonial Period and the Korean War: The Minnesota Project


Korea's medical system was completely devastated by the Korean War. Hospital buildings were destroyed, equipment was plundered, and many medical employees were killed or kidnapped. The Minnesota Project, a large-scale technical assistance program led by the United States, was launched at this time to help resurrect Korea's medical environment.


Background of the Minnesota Project

Korea was liberated from Japan in 1945. Five years after liberation, the Korean War broke out and lasted for three years from 1950 to 1953. Medical colleges, nursing education institutions, and hospitals suffered severe destruction and loss of human resources due to the war.

After World War II, the United States began to provide technical assistance for developing countries in which it had diplomatic and military interest. By training professionals in urgent fields, providing essential equipment and facilities, and establishing educational institutions, the United States expanded the influx of advanced knowledge, skills, and technology into developing countries.

As one of the technical assistance programs of the International Cooperation Administration (ICA), the University of Minnesota (UM) assisted in the rehabilitation and capacity building of three colleges  of Seoul National University (SNU) from 1954 to 1961. This project, known as the "Minnesota Project," greatly contributed to the reconstruction and development of SNU, which had been severely devastated by the Korean War. We will focus on SNU's College of Medicine (SNUMC) in this theme.
 
[Figure 3. MOU Signing Ceremony Between Seoul National University
and The University of Minnesota, 1954]


Among 96 programs instituted by the ICA, the Minnesota Project enjoyed the largest funding, with a budget of about 10 million USD.  Originally, the ICA had considered supporting several universities in Korea. However, it finally decided to "select and concentrate" on one leading university, SNU. 


Three Components of the Minnesota Project

The Minnesota Project consisted of three components: an overseas fellowship program, an advisory service, and facilities reconstruction and equipment supply.

Overseas Fellowship Program

A total of 226 academics from SNU and 77 from SNUMC were trained in the United States through the project.  The fellowship program focused on training assistant professors and teaching assistants. Among 77 fellows, 33 were teaching assistants, the latter of whom were allowed to stay in the United States for two or three years, with some even earning an academic degree in their specialty. A short-term fellowship program was granted to higher level individuals, for example the deans of the medical college, hospital directors, and the senior-level staff of certain departments. Generally, these individuals stayed in the United States for several months to study advanced curriculums, teaching methods, faculty development programs, and university and hospital management systems.

In order to prevent brain drain, the contract between ICA and UM obligated that the Korean government and SNU guarantee a professorship of at least one year for exchange professors upon their return to Korea. Furthermore, fellows were not allowed to bring their families in order to prevent brain drain.

 
[Figure 4. Korean Fellows at The University of Minnesota, 1956]


Advisory Service

During the project period, 59 advisors were dispatched to Korea. For the College of Medicine, 11 came to Korea and stayed from several months to 1.5 years.  Advisors never worked in the place of Korean professors; rather they saw their role as "helping Korean professors to do the work themselves." One advisor explained that they "wanted to teach the Korean professors how to fish, instead of giving them a fish."

Specifically, the advisors were responsible for: (1) formulating strategic directions for the development of SNU College of Medicine; (2) helping Korean professors make wise decisions on challenging issues by consultation based on educational, scientific, and administrative principles; (3) introducing new teaching, research, and clinical methods by special training sessions and demonstrations; and (4) acting as a symbol for change, so that Korean professors could feel more confident in provoking change themselves.


Facilities and Equipment Supply

From the 9.54 million USD supported by the ICA, 6 million USD was allocated to equipment, and construction and repair of facilities. Matching funds from the Korean government which amounted to 7 million USD were also spent on equipment and facilities. Through the project buildings destroyed by the war were reconstructed, and many modern ones were built. Facilities for electricity, hot water, and heating were repaired or replaced. Much new equipment for education, research, and clinical practice was also supplied.


Results of the Minnesota Project

Several important changes occurred at SNUMC as a result of the project. By 1962, when the project concluded, other than three professors who decided to stay in the United States, 74 professors returned to Korea. At that time, the total number of professors was 106. The effect of having nearly 70 percent of the faculty influenced by new trends in American medicine and education was significant. This critical mass of faculty members could take Korean medical sciences to the next level by diffusing the new technologies and organizational culture they had learned in the United States throughout the Korean medical environment.

With the help of advisors, major events in the history of medical education in Korea occurred during the project period. These included the introduction of clinical clerkships in 1957, internships in 1958, and residency programs in 1959. These programs were the core of American medical education at that time. Japanese-style medical education started to be transformed into a more American model.

The Graduate School of Public Health was newly established, and the Technical High School of Nursing was changed to the Department of Nursing under the College of Medicine in 1959. Several prominent leaps in clinical practice in clinical practice were made due to the project,  and many academic societies established by its influence.

But there were some negative outcomes as well. The project planted the seed of brain drain, which could be seen from the mid-1960s , increased Korean dependency on American medicine, and strengthened the market-oriented healthcare system.