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Doctors split over allocation plan

Some say they are open to talks with the government, KMA mulls full-scale strike

By Park Jun-hee

Published : March 22, 2024 - 16:21

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(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

The Korean government’s plan to distribute the 2,000 new medical school places across the country appears to have split doctors, who have generally held a united front in opposing the expansion.

While the announcement received a cold response from the country’s biggest doctors’ group, the emergency committee representing professors from 20 medical schools shared its willingness to talk with the government.

The emergency committee of medical professors at Yonsei University issued a public appeal Friday, warning that professors have no reason to remain in their places without students and junior doctors.

“If the current situation persists, it would be (much more) difficult (for people) to meet doctors in essential fields,” it said.

Later in the day, the Korean Medical Association -- the country’s largest coalition of doctors’ groups with some 140,000 members -- issued a statement that it would fight until the end to win against the government.

“The public is also aware that doctors are resisting to save the health care system, not for their grievances,” it said.

On Thursday, Kim Sung-geun, a surgical gastroenterologist at Yeouido St. Mary’s Hospital and a medical professor at the Catholic University of Korea who doubles as the KMA emergency committee’s deputy spokesperson, said the KMA would mobilize all means to protect the country’s health care system with its members. He also hinted that doctors, including private physicians, could go on a full-scale strike.

“The election for the KMA president ends Friday, so things will likely take shape (after the voting ends.) General and university hospitals have been hit the biggest (due to junior doctors’ walkouts). But if self-employed doctors take part (in the strike), that means the collapse of the country’s health care system,” Kim told reporters.

The Metropolitan and Provincial Council Chairs Association of Korea also took a dim view, referring to the plan as a “populist policy that has put an end to Korea’s medical sector.”

In a statement issued late Thursday, the group said the medical community is toothless in the face of the overwhelming power wielded by the government.

“(We) hope that the Yoon Suk Yeol administration will take full responsibility for terminating Korea’s health care,” the statement read.

In a rare move, however, the emergency committee of professors from 20 medical schools said it would reconsider submitting resignation letters if the government creates a space for talks and withdraws from suspending the licenses of trainee doctors who left their workplaces.

Medical professors at Seoul National University and Seoul National University Hospital also expressed hopes to negotiate with the government, adding that there was still room to resolve the issue.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo welcomed the plan during Friday’s press briefing, saying that the government is available anytime, anywhere, regardless of the date or location for talks with medical professors.

“(The government asks the medical professors) to request a dialogue with the government without hesitation,” Park said.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Lee Ju-ho met with the presidents of 40 medical schools on the same day, urging students to return to classrooms and professors to refrain from engaging in collective action by tendering their resignations en masse.