Sometimes, when you're watching Korean dramas, you just can't help but wonder, "May ganyan kaya talaga ka-gwapong doctor/lawyer/police officer/CEO in real life?" If you live in South Korea, will you really see cute guys that look like your favorite oppa everywhere? Well, according to this Korean doctor, the chances are slim in the actual medical field of the land where Hallyu is. Meet Dr. Lee Howoo—simply known as Dr. Howoo on TikTok and other online platforms.
For over a year now, Dr. Howoo has been creating short videos about his life as a licensed doctor (and as a dad to a super cute and cheerful baby). In this exclusive interview, Dr. Howoo shares his background as a medical professional. The 31-year-old also shares more about his daily life and his thoughts on medical K-dramas. Ready to find out if those Hospital Playlist scenes are accurate? Read on.
Becoming a Korean MD
Wonder if it's similar to the journey of doctors in the Philippines? According to Dr. Howoo, it's a bit the same. You can either study medicine for six years fresh after high school. Or you can study a pre-med course like Biology and then go to a postgraduate medical school for four years. "In my case, I just went straight to medical school, so it took six years to get the doctor's license and one year of internship. [Now], I'm in the third year of residency. I'm graduating next year."
For Pinoys, the usual scenario is studying four or five years pre-med, taking the National Medical Admissions Test (NMAT), and proceeding to four years in med school before the medical internship and the local licensure exam. There are also special "straight" programs to obtain a degree faster like in De La Salle University's six-year program and the University of the Philippines' seven-year INTARMED program.
During residency, Pinoys and Koreans get specialized training. In Dr. Howoo's case, it's for anesthesiology and pain medicine. He shares, "My schedule starts at 6 a.m. and I get to work by 6:30. I work in the operation room (OR) and [out-patient department or] OPD for the pain medicine department." Dr. Howoo typically ends his workday at 4 to 6 p.m.—it's not really scheduled and it depends on how many operations he needs to attend to. "I work every weekday and I get weekends off because I'm in my third year. But when I was in my first and second year of residency, I never had my weekends off." According to one of his TikTok videos, Dr. Lee is actually a chief resident.
Life outside the hospital
Dr. Howoo shares that he's based right outside Seoul, just 30 minutes away. In his YouTube channel and a lot of his TikTok videos, you'll see a prominent guest star: His son, Lian. The adorable baby is turning one in a few months, and his appa has been taking care of him whenever he's off-duty as a doctor. They go on picnics with Dr. Howoo's wife and take vacations as a family, too.
In fact, during the interview, Dr. Howoo shares that they were about to go on a family trip. "Every vacation, I just go to a hotel with my family," says the doctor. He also adds that he's not the sporty or outdoorsy type, so he prefers chill staycations.
Side hustle and skincare secrets
ICYDK, Dr. Howoo also has a line of skincare products available on Shopee and his website. He also sells other Korean treats worldwide. He tells Cosmo.ph that it all started when followers kept asking him about his skincare routine. At the time, he was focused on fun and educational TikTok videos.
"I just thought of my skincare. I [realized] I have been using the same products for over five years, some of them for over seven years. I called [the manufacturer] of my skincare products out of curiosity to see if I can buy the products at [wholesale prices] and sell them internationally. I didn't expect it, but they were really happy!"
And the rest was history. Now, his main markets include the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, some parts of Europe, and the U.S. Some of the products that he swears by and sells are Guaiazulene Cream. It's one of his personal secrets for bright, clear, and young-looking skin. Plus, he says it's recommended by Korean dermatologists and cosmetic surgery clinics.
But when we asked him about his top secret to looking young, his answer was quite unexpected. "Above the skincare, I believe taking less stress from everything is the first step. Taking things too seriously and focusing on negative vibes make you look older. So I intentionally focus on the positive things." Dr. Howoo also shared practical advice, as he believes good products are essential in taking care of your skin. "Lasers and dermatology procedures aren't really necessary [in most cases]. What I really believe is that to make your skin way better than before you have to find good products and stick to them. Many people do the mistake of just shifting and shifting their skincare. They keep trying out new products or get hooked by new advertisements. That usually ends in bad results."
Medical Korean dramas: Accurate or not?
Of course, we couldn't let the interview pass without asking Dr. Howoo's take on our favorite medical K-dramas. And since he works in the OR usually, we were curious if our favorite show gets the surgical procedures right. Luckily, he watched the first season of Hospital Playlist, so he shared what was accurate and what wasn't. "It's a really well-made drama and it has many similarities with the actual Korean medical field. I was really impressed with the operating room setting, what they say, and what they do."
A scene where they showed an "aortic cross-clamp" really stood out to him. For us unfamiliar with surgeries, we may have even missed it. "It's like putting a big clam over the aorta (or the biggest vessel of our body). When surgeons take off the clamp, they have to place the patient in a head-down position. It's like a really, really minor thing, but it's crucial for doctors to perform that." And in Hospital Playlist, he said they captured small details like that.
There were things that the show added just for entertainment purposes, of course. Dr. Howoo shares what were not *that* realistic, "One thing that made me cringe was when a neurosurgery resident was into his professor, Chae Song Hwa (Jeon Mi Do). He confessed his feelings, and that's really far from the truth. That kind of thing never happens in the medical field."
In another TikTok video, he says real-life hospital romances aren't that common. He also added that he has never met someone similar to Yoo Yeon Seok's character (who wanted to quit medicine in order to be a priest) IRL, too. Another bummer: He reveals it's difficult to spot impossibly handsome and beautiful doctors in actual Korean hospitals. "If you visit any big hospital in South Korea, it will be very hard to find good-looking doctors."
Welp, at least we found one already: Dr. Lee Howoo! If you want to check out the full video interview, watch it here:
Special thanks to Dr. Howoo for participating in this Zoom interview and credits to him for the TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube materials.