North Korean Doctors Train Abroad


A Geographic Travel Restriction may restrict U.S. citizens from entering DPRK, but it does not restrict North Koreans from traveling abroad. North Korean doctors traveling overseas for official business have the opportunity to be exposed to the outside world and receive much-needed medical training for children with developmental disabilities.

Next week begins the third official medical training provided by Ignis Community for North Korean doctors treating pediatric patients with cerebral palsy ( The first training through Ignis began in July 2015 in Manila, Philippines. Four North Korean doctors were exposed to a multi-disciplinary approach in treating children with cerebral palsy through a partnership with the University of the Philippines- Philippine General Hospital . Then in September 2017, four other North Korean doctors and one North Korean official received their first exposure to Conductive Education in Hong Kong, China. Their training in the Conductive Education approach trains children with neurological mobility impairment in a comprehensive method for daily living and normal life experiences. The third training this coming week will be in Shanghai, China and will provide training in Bobath Therapy for eight North Korean doctors.

Medical observation and training for North Korean doctors in Hong Kong

Medical observation and training for North Korean doctors in Hong Kong

For another reason, this year’s training is especially significant. Although the training will occur in China, the trainers are all South Korean doctors from the Seoul Rehabilitation Hospital. It is the first medical training of its kind involving collaboration between South and North Korean doctors. The South Korean Department of Unification is sponsoring 7 South Korean medical professionals and three South Korean Ignis Community personnel to travel to Shanghai, China to provide this specialty training for both Chinese and North Korean doctors in a joint training program.

Eight North Korean doctors along with the Rehabilitation specialist for Ignis Community, Stephen Yoon, will receive training for children with cerebral palsy for the purposes of using this therapy in the Pyongyang, DPRK. Bobath is a world-renown therapy for cerebral palsy. It uses a neurological rehabilitation approach to patient assessment and treatment. The holistic approach combines occupational therapy, physiotherapy, and speech and language therapy to encourage and increase a child’s own movement and functional ability in a myriad of ways.

With the help of Ignis Community, North Korean doctors receiving the training, along with expertise of the U.S. Rehabilitation specialist, Stephen Yoon, are establishing the Pyongyang Spine Rehabilitation Center (PYSRC) for children with developmental disabilities in the DPRK. As the center’s construction is nearing completion, Ignis plans to begin full operation of the center by the end of 2019. The PYSRC will become the first medical graduate specialty training center for children with cerebral palsy, autism, and other developmental disabilities in the DPRK. Ignis Community is collaborating with the Ministry of Public Health and KIM IL SUNG University Pyongyang Medical School Hospital to begin two-year specialty post-graduate programs for DPRK medical doctors and develop treatment for children with developmental disabilities.

Prior to this project, no official specialization existed for treating children with cerebral palsy or other developmental disabilities in North Korea. Cerebral palsy was either considered to be untreatable or treated with lack of expertise. But worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3.3 children out of every 1,000 birthed children are affected by cerebral palsy. When extrapolated to the most recent data for the DPRK population, this means that approximately 30,000–40,000 children with cerebral palsy are in need of treatment throughout North Korea. However, currently the vast majority of these children receive no specialty treatment.

Ignis Community is on the cutting edge of providing not only treatment but also specialty medical training for doctors to ensure that long-term, sustainable treatment will persist for children with developmental disabilities in the DPRK. The North Korean Department of Public Health is now working to establish Pediatric Rehabilitation Centers in all ten provincial hospitals. Doctors are being trained in treatment methodologies at Kim Il-Sung University Pyongyang Medical School Hospital. The government has ensured the development of this specialty in all 11 medical schools in the country by signing an agreement with Ignis Community.

As North Korean doctors are exposed to medical practices and facilities out of country, their understanding and grasp of modern medical treatment is increased exponentially. The previous medical training in Hong Kong provided North Korean doctors with a live demonstration of Ignis Community’s training in Pyongyang. One doctor testified, “All that Ignis Community has been teaching us so far is now making sense. The medical concepts are coming together as I can see with my own eyes the training I have been receiving being put into practice.” This doctor further expanded upon the difference she observed in Hong Kong, “I am especially impressed with the medical professionals’ passion for their work and their love and care for their patients. They put much effort into treating every aspect of their patients’ lives including all details of their physical, emotional, and social well-being.”

North Korean doctors receiving exposure to Visual Discrimination Therapy in Hong Kong

North Korean doctors receiving exposure to Visual Discrimination Therapy in Hong Kong

The hope is that similar testimonies will come out of these coming weeks as North Korean doctors receive their first official training in Bobath Therapy. But just as significant as the much-needed medical training is the collaboration between the two Koreas. The training will provide an opportunity for North and South Koreans to work together and to learn from each other. It is one tangible and important step towards cooperation between the two countries.

Davis Mursalie