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[Editorial] Trainee doctors

Yoon, trainee doctors should meet to begin meaningful talks to resolve standoff

By Korea Herald

Published : April 4, 2024 - 05:31

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President Yoon Suk Yeol wishes to meet with trainee doctors to hear them out, Yoon’s office said Tuesday, but the Korea Intern Resident Association has not officially responded.

The presidential office made the statement hours after Cho Yoon-jeong, public relations committee chief of the Medical Professors Association of Korea, implored KIRA leader Park Dan to meet with Yoon “without any conditions” if the president extended the invitation.

Yoon said Monday the medical community should present a unified plan based on scientific grounds if it wants the government to revise its policy for medical reforms, including the planned increase of medical school enrollment by 2,000 starting next year.

In a televised address to the nation that lasted 51 minutes, the president said the government’s policy “can always change for the better if better ideas based on reasonable grounds are presented.”

Yoon reiterated that the number 2,000 is “the bare minimum the government came up with through meticulous calculations” as well as “sufficient and wide-ranging discussions with the medical community including doctors’ groups.”

He denied claims that the government had not sufficiently consulted the medical community by listing the dates and the number of times it met with doctors.

Despite the government's requests, the doctors' groups did not suggest a number for the admissions quota increase, Yoon said.

Some 12,000 junior doctors have walked out of the job since Feb. 20 in protest of the government's plan to increase medical school enrollment. Medical professors, who work as senior doctors at major hospitals, have reduced their working hours from this week to cope with their growing fatigue since the prolonged walkout by their junior colleagues.

The nation’s largest hospitals, which have relied heavily on interns and residents, reduced the number of inpatients and surgeries by half, and are suffering losses. Seoul National University Hospital, where trainee doctors accounted for 46 percent of its physicians, shut down 10 of its 60 wards. Some 90 percent of those who were scheduled to begin their internship at teaching hospitals in the first half of this year refused to register.

It remains to be seen whether the three major groups of junior and senior doctors – the KIRA, Korean Medical Association and Medical Professors Association of Korea – can coordinate among themselves to come up with a unified proposal for the government's medical reform policy.

What the medical community generally agrees on now is that the trainee doctors should meet with Yoon because he is the one person that holds the key to solving the current medical crisis.

The KIRA previously said in a statement issued on Feb. 20 that the government’s policy package announced earlier that month “lacked specific content.”

They called for measures to increase the employment of specialists at teaching hospitals and improve legal protections against excessive medical malpractice lawsuits.

The KIRA should meet with the president, explain to him what they think the government should do to improve the trainee doctors’ working conditions and help draw more physicians to essential health care fields such as pediatrics and general surgery.

The junior doctors should know by now that merely repeating that the number 2,000 lacks a scientific basis and that an increase of medical students will only degrade the quality of medical education will not change anything.