Phillip Brian Yoo is a missionary, but not the type you would expect. A Korean American from Detroit, Mich., Yoo is spreading the word on chiropractic – a natural branch of the healing arts which focuses on maintaining sound body structure by correcting spinal and postural distortions.
This natural healing art has only a miniscule base in Korea, where Yoo says there are only 47 U.S.-educated, licensed practitioners – including himself. But he is busy doing his part to help it gain a foothold.
Since last year, Yoo, who says he is the only practicing American chiropractor in Korea, has been teaching the philosophy of chiropractic and some techniques to a group of Oriental medicine doctors (OMDs). Many OMDs are trained in a similar Oriental technique called “chuna yobop,” and are eager to expand their knowledge of chiropractic.
He also gives free chiropractic consultations and works for living expenses at a private clinic in Iteawon at International Clinic 9th floor room No. 901. He says he would branch out on his own in Korea, but law here stipulates that a chiropractor also be a licensed physician or OMD to open up his or her own practice.
Yoo first fell in love with chiropractic while attending Michigan State University, majoring in health education and human performance. After working as a personal fitness trainer for a few years, he went into chiropractic in 1997.
“Being so involved in the fitness industry, I looked at chiropractic as a career, because it focuses on natural health care and medicine, which agrees with my personal philosophy of health care,” he said in a recent interview with The Seoul Times.
Yoo primarily treats people with back and neck pain due to stress and overwork. He works with people of all nationalities, and more and more are coming to see him due to word-of-mouth recommendations. This increase in business has meant Yoo has little time to spend at home. But this is a good thing, because Yoo lives in a “hasook jip” that he says is no bigger than the average closet in the United States.
“It’s probably six … not even six feet by eight feet,” he says. “But I need just a place to put my head down and that’s what I use it for.”
Following are excerpts from a conversation with Yoo on working as a chiropractor in Korea, his hopes for a future chiropractic mission to North Korea and why he speaks with a Kyongsang Province accent:
Korea Herald: How did you get started in Korea as a chiropractor?
Philip Brian Yoo: My original plan was to study Korean for one year or so and when I became fluent, to go to L.A, where a lot of Hispanics and Korean people live, to set up a private chiropractic practice. I am already fluent in Spanish and I wanted to be able to speak my parents’ home language in order to communicate and treat the ethnic population.
But after coming to Korea, I had the good fortune to bump into a Korean medical doctor who owned a private clinic and let me practice chiropractic and work there. So, since being here, I changed my plan.
Question: What is the state of chiropractic in Korea?
PBY: I don’t really know what the condition of the field of chiropractic is here in Korea. The only thing I know is that there is a Korean Chiropractic Association with only 46 chiropractors working with a U.S. degree, who are properly educated and trained, throughout the country. And only about half of them are allowed to have their own practices because Korean law stipulates that, in order to practice here, you must also be a licensed physician or OMD.
The problem that makes matters worse is that there is a number of people who are not properly trained but are somehow working as chiropractors, and their numbers are increasing these days. I’m worried about the effects of that input. In reality, definitely, we need more doctors of chiropractic, because more than 80 percent of people here are said to suffer from a multitude of pains around the back area.
Question: Have you practiced chiropractic in any other countries beside the United States or Korea?
PBY: After school, I went to Honduras on a mission trip sponsored originally by the Christian Chiropractic Association. It was only supposed to be for a month, but on the day I flew in, the doctor who picked me up at the airport and I were car-jacked on the way to his home and as a result, he was shot in the eye.
Getting him to the hospital, I decided to stay down there and take over the mission for him. So, I stayed down in Honduras, where there’s not more than a handful of chiropractors, for a year working at a private hospital. And it was there that I learned Spanish, in which I’m now fluent.
Question: Speaking of languages, what do you speak while treating your patients? Korean or English?
PBY: Well, usually people just speak their home language. If there’s a Korean patient, then, I’m forced to use Korean, which is OK. And if they speak English, which most foreigners and international people use, I speak English. And, as I said, I do speak fluent Spanish and also a little German.
Question: I’m sure people must comment on your “country accent.” How did you acquire your Kyongsang Province twang?
PBY: As far as the language, my Korean needs much improvement. The problem is, first of all, because I’m originally an American citizen born and raised there, I have an American accent. And all the Koreans I know speak the Southern dialect. So, combine the two, and sometimes it’s not a pretty picture when I talk Korean. As far as the patients go, they understand, and they laugh along with it.
I do enjoy speaking the Southern dialect because there are many words that standard Korean speakers – people in Seoul – do not know. There are just certain words they do not use. So, I kind of joke with them. When I say a word that only southern people know, I say to them, “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you Korean.” That’s kind of funny. But now my Korean is improving and becoming standard Korean.
Question: What are your plans for the future? Another mission?
PBY: I plan to stay in Korea, and continue to promote chiropractic here. Due to the laws, I wasn’t able to set up my own practice. But the laws were changed and now I can get dual citizenship after tracing back my family tree and acquiring those documents. Also, I feel that it is my mission in life, since I have a talent, to make medical mission trips and set up free clinics and give free medical care. So I would really like to make a mission to North Korea.
From what I’ve read, medical conditions are really scarce up there. If the country allows me, I’d like to form a team – there are many American doctors willing to go. I’d like to be an intermediary to set that up.
Question: From the perspective of a chiropractor, do you have any advice for anyone who wants to keep their body, especially their spine, strong and healthy?
PHY: First of all, the effects of poor posture can be serious in terms of health. There are many reasons for poor posture, the most serious of which is birth defects. In many cases, it is a combination of several reasons that causes a person to have poor posture, like emotional problems, excessive weight, foot problems or improper shoes, poor sleep support, and so on.
If not corrected, it can affect health and produce structural stress, which ultimately can cause spinal degeneration. It is needless to say that prevention is better than cure.
Originally published in the Seoul Times by Steve(YM) Kim, Staff reporter.