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PM denounces attempts to delay med school quota hike plan

Size of quota increase was based on scientific analysis, Han says

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : March 13, 2024 - 15:33

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Prime Minister Han Duck-soo speaks to a group of reporters at a dinner meeting held near the Government Complex Sejong on Tuesday. (Office for Government Policy Coordination, Prime Minister's Secretariat) Prime Minister Han Duck-soo speaks to a group of reporters at a dinner meeting held near the Government Complex Sejong on Tuesday. (Office for Government Policy Coordination, Prime Minister's Secretariat)

South Korea's Prime Minister Han Duck-soo on Tuesday criticized recent attempts made by protesting doctors to delay the government's plan to increase the annual medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 and to lower the cap on the number of students.

Han's remarks follow a proposal made by a group of senior doctors and medical school professors the same day, who called for the government "to decide on the quota increase after allowing overseas researchers to review the matter for one year," in a press conference held at the National Assembly.

The doctors, who are professors at Seoul National University's College of Medicine, threatened to resign en masse unless the government "takes proactive and reasonable measures that can alleviate the tension between the medical sector and the authorities.”

"The number 2,000 (which is the number of students that will be added from next year) is the bare minimum," Han told a group of reporters at a dinner meeting near the Government Complex Sejong.

"The number represents a government decision based on the opinions of various experts," he added.

On the SNU professors' latest request to delay the timeline of the plan for a year, Han said it is already too late.

"It's the Korean public who is going to deal with the blow if the plan is delayed yet again. Doing so would be a dereliction of the government's duty," he explained.

The prime minister also pointed out that the government has failed to bridge the gap with protesters over the medical quota issue, despite having held a total of 28 rounds of meetings with the Korean Medical Association, the country's largest lobbying group for doctors.

"We have established a separate communication channel with the KMA upon their request and held a total of 28 rounds of meetings for the sole purpose of discussing the quota issue," Han said.

"The KMA, however, continued to stick with its initial stance of not wanting to increase even one additional seat in the quota, leading to a breakdown in the negotiations. (The KMA) even failed to respond to the government's latest notice."

In a separate government meeting held Wednesday, Han further explained that the size of the quota increase was based on a scientific analysis.

"(The failure to adopt the quota increase plan) would lead to a shortage of 10,000 doctors (across the country) by 2035," he said.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare released a scenario in line with Han's remarks, showing that the number of doctors aged 70 or older will hit 32,000 by 2035, eclipsing the number of fresh medical school graduates and junior doctors that year if the quota is not increased.

Korea is currently grappling with the mass resignation of over 90 percent of the country's 13,000 junior doctors, who have been protesting the government's quota hike plan for nearly a month. The move has led to cancellations of surgeries and a disruption in the medical system.

Meanwhile, regarding the Yoon Suk Yeol administration's diplomatic accomplishments so far, Han lauded its "success in resolving" issues tied to Korean victims of Japan's wartime forced labor and forging security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo against North Korea's threats.

President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are currently leaning towards announcing a joint statement celebrating 60 years of normalized relations, according to Kyodo News on Wednesday.