I'm an undergrad pre-med student that had the amazing privilege of going to North Korea last year with a group of medical students and surgeons. We were in Pyongyang for a week as well as in Wonsan for two days. We made history by establishing the first international conference between North Korean medical students and internationals in North Korea. We spent a bulk of the time interacting with medical students from Pyongyang Medical College as well as in the hospitals in Pyongyang and Wonsan. I'm also currently writing an 80-pg senior thesis on the history of the North Korean Church. I don't know all the details about North Korean politics (lol who does?) but would be happy to answer any questions regarding DPRK healthcare and its relationship with Christianity in the past and currently. I took over 4,000 pictures, but selected about 250 and is posted below.


Edit: Thank you stranger for the reddit gold!!! My first. My life is complete and I may now die.

Comments: 134 • Responses: 55  • Date: 

creativezen17 karma

Whenever someone says they've been to North Korea they mention how they were treated with kiddy gloves and basically given a highly structured tour which shows only the good parts, and none of the overwhelming poverty and horrible conditions. Is this the way you were monitored?

I'm about to go through the picture gallery so perhaps I'll find the answer there, but damn that place intrigues me, it feels so medieval and secret and just plain horrible

joeharrisfan26 karma

Yes. The guides followed us like hawks. For instance, if I went to a public restroom at a restaurant, the male guide would follow me into the bathroom and wait outside my stall. Fortunately, this was no ordinary tour group, but rather a medical team. We got to go to Wonsan and see the the operating rooms in Pyongyang. We were able to see impoverished parts because our role as medical providers necessitated that. Hope the gallery is informative! I've only gone there once, so I'm no expert by any means.

creativezen9 karma

For some reason my iPhone (safari) won't let me link a picture without saving and re uploading it, so I won't link it, but the picture of the little girl playing tag made me smile. The pictures were: depressing, depressing, nice view but kinda depressing, depressing, depressing, aww an oblivious kid smiling and enjoying life. Made me smile and incredibly happy.

Great pics and great story! Love how you annotated the pics so clearly and gave a lot of background information. Good luck with your medical career, hope it goes well, and you've experienced something that almost no one will get the chance to, be proud of that.

One last question. Did the people or the culture surprise you in any way? I know you had to have gone there with some sort of negative expectation (who wouldn't!?) but did you encounter anything that made you question that assumption?

Also, that guard in the bomber jacket couldn't look any more badass lol

joeharrisfan7 karma

Thank you so much! I appreciate you taking time to look through everything, and I hope it was a bit informative. Good question. Like the other questions, I had been taken aback by the people's generosity, hospitality, and compassion that they expressed towards us that did not feel fake like all the other systems and institutions. The people were really down to earth, not talking about the Kardashians or crap like that. They were genuine, and they asked good questions about life in America.

lucaxx852 karma

Seriously? I've read that tours like those for journalists are much stricter than tourist ones, but when I was there I never had guides following us to the stalls! By far.

joeharrisfan4 karma

Times are tough! Don't get me wrong, the guides were incredibly nice people. We weren't exactly journalists either, and we were going to see much worse places than tourists or journalists were able to see.

lucaxx851 karma

I was wondering because every time I've read accounts from reputable journalists they always told how controlled they were, how the guides controlled the pictures afterwards etc... Instead, while I was there as a tourist we were filming everything from the tour bus (a thing that the internet claim is super-forbidden) every single minute and when biking at times we were in rural areas up to 1 km away from our guides.

(our western guide told us that they're opening up a lot from year to year)

BTW... was your group connected in any way to missionary girl that they jailed today? (Apparently the Wheat Mission Ministries from LA)

luddist2 karma

Have you published any of your photographs or videos? I'm sure people would be interested to see them too.

joeharrisfan1 karma

I have not! How would I go about dong so?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Ah I see. We were also able to take photos from the bus or wherever we were, but there were some places we were not allowed to, especially for soldiers, signs of poverty, etc. It also depends on the guides, some were more uptight than others. One guide got really mad at me for taking too many pictures and yelled at me a lot. No, I actually read that today. It's sad to see her go, especially when people come to help society. What's crazy about North Korea is a lot of operations are under wraps, so you have no idea who goes in and when they go in and how often. Some live there, others go 3-4 times a year.

lucaxx851 karma

I toured 9 days with Pyongyang guides over a number of different places. Super chill, never ever stopped us from doing anything at all. (of course soldiers were totally out, but poverty, while officially a "no" wasn't a problem).

Then I spent one day in Sinuiju, with local guides that were dealing with western people for the 5th time in their life, I was probably the 100th western guy to visit there since they opened the town to western tourism. There they were super-strict instead. (well... They were like "please, these are the rules that somebody else made, try respect them" more than actually "do as we say")

joeharrisfan2 karma

Interesting. Tourists definitely go around a lot, especially to Rajin, Sinuiju, Wonsan... I do agree that it was more of a "please respect our rules" but I've heard several accounts of tourists getting out of hand and the police intervening.

lucaxx853 karma

There was an interesting piece by Lankov (as usual) on the topic of who gets detained some months ago. Apparently if you're a non-US tourist you can get away with a lot, even more if Russian or Chinese. If you're from the US, instead, they might jail you for the usual negotiations.

joeharrisfan2 karma

I haven't read that particular piece of Lankov, but I would agree. Some North Koreans brightened up to me when I showed that I could speak fluent Russian. Here's to hoping that US-DPRK relations improve miraculously.

argent-skies9 karma

What kind of illnesses were more common in the hospitals? How much medical knowledge did the students have? Was it on par with, say, American standards?

joeharrisfan11 karma

There are several huge diseases common: malaria, tuberculosis, Hansen's (leprosy), typhoid, and hepatitis B, among others. The medical knowledge was not tested for these students. We were about to give them a short MCAT test (just a few questions) but we ran out of time. Even if we did test them, I'm not sure if they would have done poorly because of their English or lack of knowledge. We showed them pictures of Hippocrates and Socrates and they easily recognized them. Definitely not on par with American standards. For North Korea (and most of the rest of the world), medical school is combined with undergrad, and North Korean medical education is about 6 - 7 years (depending on if you want to specialize or not).

MG879 karma

2 Questions for you:

1) How "up to date" are their hospitals?

2) What was the strangest conditions/disease that you saw there?

joeharrisfan13 karma

The General Hospital was in horrible conditions. The others (newer) were comparable to the US almost (because of the donations from S. Korea or the US). They had relatively up to date equipment, including just one MRI machine in Pyongyang. 2) Strangest? Leprosy probably, or the most excruciating ones was they did surgeries on patients without anesthesia.

Troppin9 karma

What is the North Korean Church? It is my understanding that religion is basically banned there, aside from a few state-run groups. Is this not correct? Did you meet any Christians when you were there?

joeharrisfan9 karma

When I refer to the North Korean Church, I mean more of the pre-existing church before the rise of the Communist state. Missionaries from the United States, Canada, the UK, and Australia flooded into Korea at the end of the 19th century. The Korean Church prospered even under persecution from the Japanese and almost survived past the Korean War. Kim Il-Sung was actually raised in a Christian house. His Juche Ideology has since replaced any form of religion, so yes, religion is basically banned there. But if you see the album, there are 4 state run churches there: 3 in Pyongyang, 1 in Rajin. 2 are Protestant, one is Catholic, and one is Russian Orthodox. The number of Christians currently in North Korea is unknown. Figures say anywhere from 5,000 to 500,000. I met a pastor of the Bongsoo Church and some of the members.

deltabagel9 karma

Did you try the grapefruit?

joeharrisfan5 karma

Unfortunately I did not. My condolences.

aaronthenia7 karma

Does North Korea allow the importation of medicines or does the country make their own? I would think from a humanitarian standpoint that medications would be allowed to be imported.

joeharrisfan7 karma

Yes, they do allow the importation of medicine. We've tried to get it in before, but China was the problem. They actually confiscated most of our medicine. Other doctors that come to the DPRK ship it directly. That costs a bit more. North Korea does make some of their own medicine, but not enough. Most of the appropriate technology goes to the more elite hospitals, not Pyongyang General

Iusuallydontcomment6 karma

Are they really capable of ripping the tooth of every citizen in country in less than 48h?

joeharrisfan4 karma

Probably not!

Skwerilleee6 karma

Do they even lift?

joeharrisfan4 karma

I'm sure some do! But most don't. They were pretty scrawny

bigmaxnonions5 karma

Since it's my birthday, I have birthday related questions!

1) Do they have birthday parties in North Korea? Or celebrate them at all?

2) What is your best birthday memory?

joeharrisfan5 karma

Happy birthday bigmaxnonions! Here's to a great year. They do have birthday parties! But it's more of a quiet family celebration, and some friends might go out and celebrate at a restaurant. 2) Well, two years ago when I turned the big 20, I bought a record player for myself for only $30 with a receiver. But I didn't have speakers. My girlfriend made up this elaborate plan where this anonymous number texted me and instructed me to go to this and this place and eventually I came to a restaurant. She was there outside and she asked a waiter to take a picture of us outside the restaurant. While we were taking the picture, the waiter pretended he was having camera difficulties and at the time all my other friends quietly crept up for a photobomb. So it was a surprise dinner and they all pitched in to buy me speakers. What about you?

RuthlessTomato5 karma

In all honesty, how much propoganda do the NK'ers believe, versus them just pretending out of fear?

joeharrisfan7 karma

I was unable to have a real heart to heart talk with any North Koreans without some guide or faculty breathing down our necks. So for them to give answers was standard-state. But talking to the doctors in the OR where there were no guides/guards, it was easy to tell that they were discontent. The North Koreans constantly expressed that they love the SK and US people, but not the governments. I think because North Korea's TV channels and Intranet are all monitored and controlled by the government, they only get that information. But they must wonder why they are not allowed to leave the country, etc.

sumit2704 karma

So is North Korea like the movie The Interview?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Have not seen it yet! But most likely not

sumit2703 karma

So are the skyscraper in North Korea mostly empty?

joeharrisfan2 karma

The skyscraper you might have seen in my album was a hotel that is incomplete. They are still in the process of finishing it. The other tall buildings, I am not sure. Most of them were apartment buildings (Soviet style is to build large ones about 15 stories high) and they were occupied all the way to the top. There weren't many skyscrapers in Pyongyang. The hotel stood out the most.

sexisfun19924 karma

Did the students ask you many questions about outside NK?

What did you tell them?

What did you learn about their lives growing up and did they know much about history?

joeharrisfan10 karma

They did! I don't recall all of the questions but they asked questions like: "What is dating and marriage life like in the US?" "What is college life like?" "Is it true that no one speaks English anymore but they all speak Italian?" "Is Beyonce really big in America?" "Tell us a joke!" "What is religion like in America?" "Do you have a girlfriend?" "Why are you so tall?" "What are the most popular sports in America?" "What do Americans think of North Korea?"

I answered all their questions, and asked about their own lives: do you guys date? Are there arranged marriages? Do you have freedom of religion? Would you ever like to travel outside the DPRK? Etc. They knew a bit about history: they could recognize figures like Socrates or Hippocrates right away. They were mostly from Pyongyang, but some of the brightest students of the villages come to the medical school. They all want to be doctors in the rural areas where help is needed the most.

Troppin7 karma

"Is it true that no one speaks English anymore but they all speak Italian?"

I'm gonna need some explanation about this.

joeharrisfan5 karma

Haha I didn't get any explanation either! I'm not exactly sure why they thought we speak Italian

PopeInnocentXIV4 karma

Maybe they meant Spanish?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Perhaps. I clarified that we have a lot of Hispanics entering our country as well as immigrants from all over the world, making the US increasingly international. They thought that America was only caucasian with some African Americans.

Troppin2 karma

It must amaze them that the United States has laws against people illegally entering the country, instead of the other way around.

joeharrisfan2 karma

I've never thought of it that way! Good point

RetardedNarhwal3 karma

How do you feel about the fact that you have been made a moderator of /r/Pyongyang?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Haha I wish! That would be cool

donjulioanejo3 karma

Out of curiosity, it says you went to a Russian public school for 5 years, so I'm assuming you lived in Russia for 5 years. How would you compare it to the Russian healthcare system?

Also, out of curiosity, since you're Korean and currently live in US, how did you end up in Russia for a good chunk of your life?

joeharrisfan4 karma

Sorry if I was not clear. I lived in two post-Soviet nations (Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan) for ten years. The Russian influence is still strong there, so there are even Russian public schools (one that I attended). I did not see the Russian healthcare system, but I did see the Kyrgyz healthcare system as well as Cambodia. Again, we see the influences of Russia in North Korean hospitals as well as in Kyrgyz and Uzbek hospitals. I witnessed a bloody revolution in Kyrgyzstan five years ago from this day actually. There's not a lot of good going on. I'd say North Korea is a bit more advanced than Kyrgyzstan (depending on which hospital we use as our vantage point). Haha I ended up going over when I was 6. My parents were professors and missionaries and we were there for ten years, I came back my senior year of high school and am now at university.

numberjak3 karma

What was it like leaving the country?

joeharrisfan4 karma

It was again, early in the morning, so a mixture of feelings. We were actually leaving the hotel and almost at the airport when the hotel called our guards and said that someone took a towel. Of course, none of us did, but they actually stopped the bus and made us open all our bags. But it's like what one might feel after watching a very sad documentary: shaken up, trying to process feelings and thoughts. I felt sad, and I think I vowed as I took one last glance before I boarded the plane: I promise to come back. My goal is to come back as a doctor and help in the DPRK.

numberjak3 karma

Was that just an excuse to look through everyones' bags then?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Perhaps it was!

GATA_eagles3 karma

What is the everyday North Korean citizen's concept of modern medicine?

joeharrisfan4 karma

Sigh, I wrote a long post but accidentally hit the back button. The North Koreans do emphasize utilizing Oriental/traditional medicine with herbs, etc. But the hospitals we all went to attempted to employ modern medicine. Many citizens do admit themselves to the hospitals (the hospitals were overflowing in Wonsan, for instance). They believe in modern medicine, but are profoundly deficient in many resources, tools, and technology.

monicat17773 karma

Would you be able to explain what the security was like when you travelled there?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Sure. Please see other comment about me almost getting in trouble for having some contraband right when I got to the airport. In contrast to Beijing (if you go to Beijing, there are soldiers and police officers EVERYWHERE), Pyongyang was very calm. The only officers you would see were traffic directors. We did see a lot of soldiers, some with Kalashnikovs, but they were mostly outside Pyongyang. Remember that about 1.5 of 25 million of the population is enlisted in the military. The guides that came with us were very cordial but watched us like hawks. They felt like guides more than guards. One male, one female. I did not feel threatened at all in any way when I was there.

santicolm3 karma

What do you think of South Koreans sending propaganda over to DPRK using balloons?

joeharrisfan2 karma

I guess it's a commendable act. At least the intentions are. We hear a lot on our media that North Korea shoots off a rocket, etc. But it's not always a preemptive move. A lot of times, there is some aggravation from the US or SK when they do biannual live fire exercises on the DMZ border to show off their military might to NK. NK has repeatedly asked for them to stop, but when the US and SK continue, NK fires off a rocket and that's what gets the news. NKeans actually are hooked to SK dramas. Somehow it sneaks over. NK just got a new 3G system, so internet is becoming more accessible.

CanadianAtheist013 karma

Are there any medicines banned from countries such as the U.S. For having weak diplomatic ties? Thanks!

joeharrisfan3 karma

Hello! Yes, more and more, NK is refusing to accept trades from the US, but in actuality they are desperate for more. I don't know if placing economic embargoes on the DPRK is actually helping them. Who knows. The government is unwilling to accept medication from the US, but the hospitals (especially the ones that are flailing about) are. That's where NGOs and humanitarian workers and missionary doctors come in: individually or in groups, they are able to bring in much-needed medicine.

murrayhenson3 karma

I'm an American that moved to Poland about a decade ago, so it was very interesting to see all of the Soviet-style blocks in NK. We still have plenty of those all over the place.

Question: when you had to get out all your electronic stuff at the airport, did they actually go through it - looking at photos or whatever? You said that you weren't supposed to take a bible into NK but what about an ebook copy on your iPhone (or whatever)?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Oh cool, nice to meet you fellow Soviet-influenced friend. They did. They went through my camera (but it was blank because I switched the cards). They took my flash drives to another computer and went through it as well as my ipod. I actually don't have an iPhone lol (flip phones all the way!). That was one option, but I liked carrying my physical Bible. I've had that since 2002 and I've written in it everywhere. It means so much to me that I'd probably not leave it in NK.

Xalc3 karma


Great AMA. I had a few questions.

This is the Operating Room. There are things I saw that I cannot mention. Most of the equipment in the back wall did not work. The C-arm (the funny shaped equipment that looked like a microscope) was really old and shipped over from the US. The big light was not operating.

  • Can you not mention them because you were told not to?
  • Also, there seems to be lack of sterilization or general cleanliness, did you recommend them to improve on this?
  • Do you think most of the supplies you give go to the 'elite' for when they need care?


joeharrisfan4 karma

Hello! Thanks for that. Well, I can maybe mention it here. There are many other pictures that I cannot post because it may jeopardize future operations of this team/group in the future and I have not attained their position. Unfortunately there are a lot of great pictures that I had to leave out.

  • Just briefly, I walked into an OR that I was not supposed to be in because I heard screaming. They were operating on patients without anesthesia. It was something out of a horror movie and I could not sleep that night.
  • Yes. I think they know that it's not sterile/clean. The other hospitals were fine, but this Pyongyang one was not. Even though it was the main public hospital, the government was not funding them enough. The bathrooms were reeking and in horrible conditions. No lights, no toilets, no running water, no toilet paper. After pooping in the ground, you were expected to wipe yourself with water from a bathtub filled with stagnant, moldy water. What needs to happen is just a revamping of the nation. I don't know. All aid that comes from the US and SK and other countries is not directed to the right places: the money just floats around the top and in hospitals or clinics that the elite would visit. That's why small humanitarian groups and missionaries are so effective.
  • No. We do give supplies to the Red Cross Hospital which is mostly for the elite, but most of our supplies went to the General Pyongyang Hospital. A lot of patients treated at the General Hospital were either from the villages or were poor enough to not afford anesthesia.

shehe1953 karma

Very very interesting contribution!

1) I am wondering if you got a chance to notice residential dwellings -- were there homes of many different sizes? Were there only apartment buildings? Apart from government/military officials, do ordinary citizens have variance in the size/condition of their houses?

2) Not sure if already mentioned -- was there variance in students' clothing or were there uniforms? If they did wear different kinds of clothing, did some seem nicer/more expensive than others? In clothing and/or other things, did you notice any international brands/companies?


joeharrisfan2 karma

Hello! Thanks for that. I was unable to visit any homes in the villages or in Pyongyang. Most Pyongyang residents lived in block apartments, just as one might expect. There weren't many homes in Pyongyang, just apartment buildings. I know that the reward system is heavily emphasized: show obedience and favor to the party, and you'll be given more. The homes that we saw in the villages were roughly the same sizes. But they all looked the same (white with some courtyards). As for students' clothing: for elementary students wore white tops with black pants/dresses and a red scarf. The college students were different. They all wore a pin as an adult citizen. The boys wore white tops with black pants and a red tie. The girls wore the traditional hanbok. The hanboks were more formal, I'm not sure if they wore that everyday. It seemed like half of the girls wore that, others wore plain clothes. The clothes in general were very bland colors: nothing too fancy. Did not notice any international brands!!! All were probably made in NK or from China.

TheShoiidy3 karma

Is Pyongyang as bad as the media portrays it to be?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Yes and no. It's a game of facade. The people are kind, but the government is oppressive and it is apparent. Apparently, if you live in a village and want to travel outside 5 km to another village, you have to tell your leader, who tells the mayor, who contacts the mayor of the other village, and that mayer tells the leader of the person you want to visit. This is what the guides said. Pyongyang itself was very clean, no pollution, seemed to be pretty busy. No one smiled though. There were no strollers - all women carried their babies. A lot of bicycles and pedestrians and not many buses or taxis.

Dolphin2083 karma

what was the people like? do they seem happy?

edit: correction

joeharrisfan11 karma

The people were the most surprising element of the trip. I expected them to be rather cold and hostile after years of oppression from the government. This was not the case, and just like South Koreans, they were very respectful, hospitable, and were kind and loving. Do they seem happy? It's hard to tell. Most of the time was a game of facade: guides showing us how North Koreans should feel rather than how they really feel. They play lots of sports and other activities, so they do have fun. But this was in Pyongyang. In the villages, life is extremely tough.

thecriticalthinker3 karma

Hi I too work in the healthcare field! I was wondering what was the most common reasons for admission in North Korea for the hospital? Did you notice anyone going through your baggages or medical supplies when you were in North Korea? I have also wondered what type of equipment did they have in terms of treating patients in North Korea compared to other nations you have worked at?

joeharrisfan4 karma

Oh hello fellow healthcare worker! Again, many common diseases were malaraia, tyhpoid, tuberculosis, Leprosy, hepatitis...I think 9% of the population has Hepatitis? That we know of (that's what the doctors said). So the government is making big strides to rectify this. At the airport checks, they did a very thorough check of our bags (they were worried when they found needles and electronic devices such as nerve stimulators) but they allowed us through. I think a lot of drugs would have caused a scene. I've been to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia and of course, the US, in terms of volunteering/shadowing at hospitals. North Korea can be likened to Cambodia in its poverty and lack of resources, training, and technology. C-arms were all donated from Europe or the US, microscopes too. We brought scalpels over and other surgical equipment, but they refused to use them because they have been accustomed to savoring good equipment until the old ones completely break apart

PsySom3 karma

How prevalent is meth as a cure all? I've heard rumors that they really love the stuff, never sure if it is true or not

joeharrisfan4 karma

I've actually heard about the government utilizing factories as meth centers. It's not implausible, as there would be no regulation of these facilities. Supposedly a lot of their meth is shipped to SE Asia like Cambodia and Vietnam. Again, can never be sure if it is true or not. Perhaps unicorns do exist in North Korea.

highonnoopept3 karma

What did you observe about the state of mental health care in North Korea?

joeharrisfan2 karma

I apologize, but was not able to see anything about mental health in North Korea. A lot of brainwashing and repetition of ideals on TV and in school. The North Korean medical students did not address this in their presentations although that would have been helpful.

TheDogstarLP3 karma

Looked at all the pictures, wow.

What was the best you saw/heard and the worst?

As well I saw you mentioned you asked them questions. What were the answers? Dating life etc.

joeharrisfan3 karma

Thanks for taking the time to look through all of these! The best thing I was able to see was playing volleyball with the North Korean medical students and eating dinner with them. It was a time of being real and being able to share a portion of life with them. Gone were the barriers of political and social constructs. It was just some people playing volleyball and talking about medicine.

Hmm, they said that they do date and there aren't arranged marriages. Their typical dates included going to coffee shops, watching dramas and concerts, going on walks, eating at restaurants. I did not see any couples having any PDA while walking down the street. Mostly guys walked with guys and girls with girls.


Have you seen the documentary about the surgeon who was allowed into the DPRK to cure people from blindness? When he did the surgery to remove the "things" in their eyes and they could see again they never thanked the surgeon but headed straight over to the portraits of their dear leaders and thanked them for his miracles of sight. (sorry for my very un medical terms)

What do you make of this? I'll try and find a link later I dont have access to youtube right now.

EDIT: summary of the documentary & the documentary iself

joeharrisfan4 karma

I have seen the documentary and have heard of it. Because most of the patients we worked with were for surgeries, we did not always get to see them after operation because the US doctors were doing so many surgeons. Most people don't genuinely feel that they should thank the leaders, but it is what the government dictates. I know that North Koreans are becoming increasingly restless with the way their government is acting. But what can they do?

YourFaceIsThePlace2 karma

I'm curious as to how you were able to bring a bible with you into the country. I've heard that they're really strict about bibles at checkpoints, and that people have been arrested for leaving them in bathrooms. Were you ever questioned about it?

joeharrisfan6 karma

Haha I think it was more of the big man looking out for me. When we landed and got to the airport security check, we had to open our backpacks and take out all "books, electronics, cameras, flash drives, and computers". I was the last in line but I started panicking because I had some things that I knew were contraband. I didn't think they would be so meticulous in their searching, but they were. So I went through, they patted me down, and I decided this was it (mind you, 3 detainees that past year, including one who planted a Bible in a restaurant). I prayed a quick prayer, and then went to the table to be searched. The guard said the same thing to me in broken English, and I put my backpack on the table. I was sweating. As I proceeded to unzip the backpack, another guard called that guard over (it was crazy hectic). I thought that this was my chance, so I took my Bible and other devices and shoved them into my jacket because I knew that they already patted me down. Then with my camera, I switched the two memory cards (I took a couple of pics that I wasn't supposed to). Right then, the guard came back. I thought for sure he had seen me, but he did not. But! Apparently it is okay if you bring a Bible as long as you declare it. I didn't know that till after I returned to the US.

YayVelociraptors2 karma

This is so amazing! I've been wanting to do medical missions as a premed as well, what organization did you go with? Were you able to do much or mostly shadow?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Awesome! There are great missions organizations that can help with that. I went with KAMA (Korean American Medical Association), although the group I went with is more of an independent group. Unfortunately they usually only take medical school students, but I knew one of the doctors so I had that connection going for me. I didn't do a lot of hands on, but I was able to take a lot of pictures, be the group's treasurer, help ventilate patients, etc.

P442 karma

How is diabetes treated in North Korea? Is it treated? ... I'm asking this because they found some insulin pens when searching our luggage, and the customs agent seemed very surprised to find that a young man obviously had to inject himself with these.

joeharrisfan2 karma

Diabetes is also treated with insulin pens. But the government is not doing its role in treating diabetes or other common diseases in an efficient manner. Doctors and healthcare professionals are taking great leaps forward in working in tandem with the government. Literally now is the harvest time, as these doctors are finding the government to be incredibly hungry for more help from individual doctors to start programs. Customs may not necessarily know but the doctors in North Korea certainly will! Most commoners might not.

luddist2 karma

Thanks for sharing these pictures and taking them with the unique access you had in the country.

One of the things I was really curious about is that there wasn't any soap available in the surgery washing room? Did they really perform surgery without washing their hands with soap? Did you guys have to bring your own?

It also makes me wonder about their sanitization practices, especially with seeing that rusty scalpel. Was sanitization adequate?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Thank you for taking the time to look through them! It's a lot! As for the soap...after washing their hands, the surgeons would come back and there was some sort of sanitizer inside that they had. It certainly wasn't American, so I don't know how they made it or where they got it from. We did bring over soap bars, etc. Sanitization was NOT adequate. The restroom: no lights, no toilet, no running water. No toilet paper. Just a hole in the ground and a bath tub of stagnant moldy water to wipe your butt.

luddist2 karma

Wow the bathrooms sound like a nightmare, I'll take some TP if I ever decide to visit.

I had a brain fart I guess because the word I was going for was sterilization. As in were the instruments etc properly sterilized for surgery?

joeharrisfan2 karma

We were not there when the instruments were sterilized, but they had them wrapped properly for sterilization, so we assumed so! Make sure you bring some soap too! Just remember that this was Pyongyang General Hospital. The more elite hospitals fared better.

shotty2932 karma

Did you find any of the medical students or tour guides attractive (besides the James McAvoy look alike)?

joeharrisfan1 karma

Haha what a funny question. Some medical students were cute, sure. No one really wore make up, which i have no problem with. Our tour guides were not attractive in particular, but there were good looking guys and girls amongst the medical students. They look just like South Koreans minus the layers of plastic surgery

DeceivingDog2 karma

Were there any fake store with a overweigth child in front of it?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Nope! We went to some stores (but not food stores) and didn't see any. I didn't see any overweight people there.

DeceivingDog4 karma

In case it was unclear. It was a joke from "The Interview". Thanks for reply though. Pretty cool that u have been in NK

joeharrisfan2 karma

Haha I actually have not seen the Interview yet. Maybe I should tonight. Thanks!

RoseL1232 karma

What influence does Kim Jong-Un have on hat kind of care they get? What did you learn his opinions on Healthcare are (or were)?

joeharrisfan3 karma

Kim Jong-Un, like his fathers before him, espouses a socialist healthcare system where everything is free. I don't know how true that is. When we treated patients, there were things like medicine or some procedures that cost $$$. If you couldn't pay it, you couldn't get it, because the government wasn't supplying Pyongyang General with enough funds. I don't know his opinion of healthcare, but I'm sure he thinks it's the greatest in the world.

RoseL1231 karma

He thinks his healthcare is the greatest in the world, or does he think that healthcare in general is the greatest thing in the world?

Sorry for issues understanding, OP.

joeharrisfan1 karma

Oh. Im not sure if I still get your question. I don't think he thinks his is the greatest. He has to front that to the people, but I'm sure that he realizes how superior other nations are to his. There is an increasing focus of finances and resources towards building new hospitals (they just built a new children's and women's hospital, both are fantastic).

RA2lover2 karma

How does NK healthcare compare to other communist countries, such as Cuba?

joeharrisfan2 karma

Not sure, have not been to Cuba!

spartout2 karma

How good/bad/weird was the food?

joeharrisfan4 karma

Finally a question about food! Food was pretty similar to SK food, besides the dog meat, pigeon heart, and cow stomach I had at the hospital. The traditional sushi wraps "kimbap" were in excess there. I guess it's relatively easy and cheap to make. Pyongyang is known best for its "Nengmyun", which is cold noodle soup. It's really good, especially there. All in all, portions were pretty small, not like SK restaurants you would find in the US. I've had weirder food in other countries. But then again I'm Korean American so a bit desensitized perhaps.

Tripleshotlatte2 karma

It was interesting to see the NK medical students give presentations on their health care system. So how exactly does health care work in North Korea? If you're sick or get injured, do you just walk into any clinic or hospital and get patched up for free? What if you are a poor farmer in the countryside or outside Pyongyang?

joeharrisfan3 karma

The top tiers of healthcare is the hospitals in Pyongyang, of which there are around 4-5 (apparently there are some secret hospitals for government officials. No one wants to see their government officials sick and in a hospital bed). These hospitals are mainly for the elite, or for some extreme cases for people from the village. Most patients in the villages would go to a village hospital. The one we saw in Wonsan was in horrible conditions. Then there are clinics scattered in the regions where there are no villages and doctor visits. The medical students really emphasized doctor visits ("house doctors"), though I'm not sure how effective this is. Healthcare in the country side is really hard to come by, much less the cities or in Pyongyang.

Salmon_Pants2 karma

In what language did you communicate with the NK students? Did they say anything about SK or Japan? Were they more welcoming to you because you are of Korean descent?

joeharrisfan4 karma

The NK medical students that we talked to (45 of them) all spoke decent English (some were pretty fluent). About SK and the US, they said that they viewed the people as very kind and loving, but the government was horrible. I do believe that there was a lot of interest in me as a Korean (actually our whole team was Korean-American/British/Australian). We were able to relate on a better note. The relations with Japan are not the best, especially after Kim Jong Un's rise to power.

BrutallyHonestDude-3 karma

So is the North Korean Health Care better than the Americans?

joeharrisfan4 karma