My interest in popular culture have long been a means of supplementing my very Eurocentric education in medical history. While for much of my life this has taken the form of medical manga my renewed interest in K-dramas has also come to facilitate this process. The medical field is one of the most popular subjects for Korean television either peripherally such as in the award-winning Sky Castle, which focuses largely on medical school applicants in its aim and their physician parents in shaping its indictment of the Korean education system to those such as Life which seeks to focus a spotlight directly on the issues of modern Korean healthcare. Today my focus will be on the series Live up to Your Name which was recently released onto American Netflix.
For those who plan to watch the series please stop reading now as I will be providing an overview of the series. At the heart of the series is the time-traveling oriental doctor Heo Im (Heo being the clan name in Korean convention) who finds himself in modern Korea. Through his interactions both professional and personal he rediscovers his motivations as a physician and sheds his pursuit of advancement and wealth through services to the elite at the cost of the poor for a more egalitarian outlook. Heo was a real physician famed for his contributions to acupuncture and for rising above the status normally accessible for a commoner such as himself. Also present in both the show and history was Heo Im’s teacher and distant relative Heo Jun a luminary of traditional eastern medicine still lauded today.
Live up to your name serves to demonstrate the common challenges medicine faces not only in 17th century Korea but also the world over. One central thread is the differential access to care available to those of means versus the general public. Heo Im in his primary profession is meant to provide medical care to the destitute of his community yet prior to his change of heart will routinely close his clinic early to cater to the needs of more affluent community members. This same thing occurs when he is transported to modern Korea and his skills are noticed by the CEO of an oriental medicine hospital who utilizes him to curry favor with the elite of Korean society. The inclusion of Heo Jun in the mentor role in a series addressing this type of issue is hardly surprising. Though famed for his work with the royal family he is also known for his efforts to increase the availability of medicine to the masses both through the use of readily available herbal medications and the use of Hangul script in place of Chinese Hanja script which would have made his writing inaccessible to the common people. Another universal problem with which medicine contends is the issue of VIP patients receiving suboptimal care out of a desire to appease them. No less prevalent is the difficulty of doctors being viewed as normal people. In the case of the show a patient videotaping a doctor dancing in a club on her off time as a means of casting aspersion on her clinical skills. A final issue raised by the show is the conflict between small clinics focused on personalized and personable treatment of patients with the potentially corrupting demands of corporate medicine.
In summary, Live up to Your Name, functions both as an enjoyable romantic comedy/medical drama and for those who wish to delve a little deeper a mirror into the issues that have faced our field from its founding across culture and time.