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Med students mull strike over student quota expansion

Vice health minister urges students to focus on studying

By Park Jun-hee

Published : Feb. 14, 2024 - 14:52

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Students walk by the College of Medicine at a university in Seoul on Feb. 5. (Yonhap) Students walk by the College of Medicine at a university in Seoul on Feb. 5. (Yonhap)

With doctors groups still mulling a strike, incumbent medical students are also mulling collective action in protest of the government’s announcement last week of an increase in the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 from the current 3,058.

The Korea Association of Medical Colleges, a group of current medical students, held an all-night online meeting earlier in the day, attended by representatives of each university’s medical school, to discuss submitting for leave of absence, walking out of class en masse or even refusing to take the state-run medical licensing exam. The group, however, didn’t make further announcements on the specific plans for the joint action.

Among the options, a licensing exam boycott is unlikely, as the next examination is not until next year.

The KAMC had reportedly considered forming a task force dedicated to responding to the government’s medical policies at 39 medical schools and one medical center, according to reports citing medical sources. The group also considered teaming up with doctors groups, such as the Korea Intern Resident Association, to deal with the issue.

“Things are really complicated at this point because (our seniors) haven’t been speaking out about taking specific actions, so it’s a bit of a pressure for students to raise our voices. That’s why we have refrained from speaking out, especially to the media,” a polyclinic student at Seoul National University College of Medicine told The Korea Herald on condition of anonymity.

While the group’s plan to engage in collective action remains undecided, Second Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Park Min-soo urged medical students to focus their energy on “training and studying” during Wednesday’s press briefing,

“The Education Ministry is probably preparing related measures for medical students, and (the Health Ministry) will also engage in talks with medical professionals, scholars and students to prevent such actions from occurring,” Park said.

However, a senior official at the Education Ministry told The Korea Herald that the ministry has no plans in place regarding medical students, adding that it would continue working with the Health Ministry in allocating spaces at medical schools.

In protest against the government’s decision to have more seats at medical schools, medical students declared a “national emergency” in 2020, where they collectively refused to attend classes and clinical practices.

In addition, they refused to take the licensing exam. Amid a continued standoff between the government and doctors, health authorities took a step back and held additional skills tests for those who boycotted.