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In the late 19th century, a turbulent time of political intrigue and burgeoning Western thought, Korea, the Hermit Kingdom, was struggling against Japanese expansionism. The last ruling royals were of the Yi Dynasty. It was then that modern medicine began, when Dr. Horace N. Allen, a Protestant missionary doctor from the Presbyterian Missions in New York, arrived in Seoul.
In December of 1884, Allen was given the singular opportunity of saving the life of the powerful Queen Min's nephew. In gratitude, at the behest of King Kojong, the Royal Hospital Kwang Hye Won, which means, "House of Extended Grace" was founded. Soon after, this was renamed Che Jung Won - "Universal Helpfulness," The King appointed Allen as head of the hospital, and Charles C. Vinton and Oliver R. Avison successfully carried on his work. Allen and his colleague, J. W Heron went further, establishing a medical school in 1886. They named it Che Jung Won Medical School - the basis for modern medical education in Korea.
In 1894, the Presbyterian North Mission was given control of the hospital from the government, and since then it has been a distinctly missionary institution. In the early years, hospital care was furnished in a remodeled, though small, traditional Korean building. But, it was determined that an adequate facility had to be erected, so, in 1899 Avison was authorized, this time by the Mission Board, to raise the sum of $10,000. Plans and estimates were drawn up. At the Ecumenical Missionary Conference in New Yark in 1900, Avison presented his proposal entitled, "Comity in Medical Missions." Louis H. Severance, an American philanthropist in the audience, was enthralled upon hearing the speech.
He then decided that Seoul would be on ideal place to build a hospital- a project he had been planning for years. He arranged to meet Avison and showed the plans and quotations. In a few days a donation of $10,000 was secured. The hospital was completed in September of 1904-the first modern hospital in Korea. It was named "Severance Memorial Hospital." Subsequently, the original donation was increased to approximately $25,000 and was used for the acquisition of more land and equipment and for more buildings to be built. Even after Severance's death, his son and daughter graciously continued to support the hospital.
The first regular class of medical students was enrolled in 1900. The beginning of modern medical education, however, dates back to 1886 and during that time the medical instruction continued, even though it didn't take a regular and systemic form. The first class of seven men graduated in June of 1908. The school by then was named "Severance Hospital Medical School." After graduation of the first class, efforts were then undertaken to unite the various missions that were involved at the school at the time. Until 1912, hospital care could hardly be termed "united" for doctors from various missions other than Presbyterian North had been giving assistance in courses and lectures, and they were not in truth "residents." That year, however, marked a new phase into the medical school's future.
The Southern Presbyterian Mission appointed Dr. Kung Sun Oh. Later, he became the first Korean dean of the school. This was soon followed by the appointment of staff from different Mission Boards, i.e., the Southern Methodist Mission, the Methodist Episcopal Mission and the Australian Presbyterian Mission. The name of the medical school was aptly changed to "Severance Union Medical College (SUMC)."
As the number of graduates increased, the faculty of the school, at the time mainly consisting of missionary doctors, was gradually replaced by its own graduates. SUMC remained the only medical school operating for Koreans by Koreans until the end of the Japanese colonization period. During the diffcult years of Japanese rule and the transitional period after World War II, deeply dedicated leaders led Severance This began with Dr. Kung Sun Oh, who succeeded Dr. Avison, followed by Yong Joon Rhee, Dong Choy, Yong Sul Lee, and Myung Sun Kim.
The outbreak of the Korean War tragically saw more than 80% of the buildings and facilities demolished. But, the staff and students set up refugee hospitals on Koje Island, at Chungdo and Wonju, in the hope that Severance would continue to function as a hospital and medical school. The "014 Severance" building was partially restored and used until 1962.
The merger of Severance Union Medical College and Chosun Christian University to form the new Yonsei University in January of 1957 was the realization of a decades-old dream. Dr. Myung Sun Kim, the former president of Severance Union Medical College, became the vice-president for Medical Affairs at Yonsei University. In 1955, the construction of Yonsei University Medical Center was undertaken on the campus of Chosun Christian University. This was accomplished with the help of the U.S. 8th Army, the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia, the China Medical Board and Alumni of SUMC.
The 8th Army aided in the creation of the Memorial Chest Surgery Hospital, the United Board - the General Ward Hospital, the China Medical Board - the basic science building and library, and the SUMC alumni - the out patient clinics. In 1962, the former Severance Union Medical College and Hospital were moved to the present Yonsel University Campus, a beautiful 15-acre site located in the western portion of Seoul.
Yonsei University College of Medicine has continued to advance to meet the challenges of constant change, the need for leadership in medical education and in the Christian ministry of healing. In 1968, the first electron microscope in a medical school was installed in Korea, and a cardiac laboratory and intensive care unit were added to the hospital. In 1969, a 4-story wing functioning as a private ward was added. This was expanded to 10 stories in 1979. The Speech and Hearing Center was established in the same year.
The Yonsei Cancer Center was also founded in 1969 as a joint effort between the Korean government and Yonsei Medical Center to meet the needs of those afflicted with cancer from around the nation. It was equipped with the most up to date radiotherapeutic and diagnostic facilities of the times. In 1973, the basic science building was expanded and a new library building was constructed. In 1975, the Kwang Wha Community Health Teaching Center was formed with the support of the Protestant Central Agency for Development Ald (EZE) of West Germany and the United Board for Christian Higher Education in Asia.
In 1983, a new 400-bed hospital was built in Yongdong, south of the Han River. And in 1987, as part of the Centennial Projects, construction of the Yonsei Rehabilitation Center, restoration of the first Korean hospital (Kwang Hye Won), and construction of the Allen Memorial Guesthouse were completed. In lieu of international trends, the hospital began decentralization into a complex of specialized centers in 1992, beginning with a 240-bed Cardiovascular Center. Kwangju Severance Psychiatric Hospital opened in 1993 and a specialized institute for Ophthalmology and ENT opened in 1996. The next great project to be launched will be the construction of a New Severance Hospital.
Never forgetting from whence they Lftile. tile Alumni Association has been extremely active in the upgrading of Yonsei University Medical Center. They erected the Chejung Haksa, medical student dormitory, in 1974 This was followed by the Mooak 3 Haksa dormitory in June of 1998. They also ettablithed the Kwang Hye Scholarship fund, and were the sole contributors for the construction of the Allen Memorial Guesthouse and the restoration of the Kwang Hye Won.
Currently, Yonsei Medical College enrolls 150 students every year, has more than 400 full time faculty members and over 900 attending staff. It operates a 2,000-bed teaching hospital equipped with modern therapeutic and diagnostic facilities and handles more than 3,000 patients a day in its outpatient clinic. The excellence of the college in the area of research and education was finally confirmed by the first national survey of medical schools conducted in 1996. Yonsei University College of Medicine was singled out as the only medical school to receive the highest rating in each of the 6 survey categories. Yonsei University College of Medicine strives to grow continuously with a spirit of Creativity, Christianity, and Cooperation and it maintains its high standard of education, research and service for the benefit of Korea.
In the first national survey of medical schools conducted by Korean Council for University Education (KCUE) in 1996, Yonsei University College of Medicine is distinguished as the only school in Korea to receive the highest rating in each of the 6 survey categories and pledges its commitment to excellence.