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Medical professors set to take day off amid protracted walkouts by junior doctors

By Yonhap

Published : May 10, 2024 - 09:21

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Doctors on a one-day break hold up signs at Asan Medical Center in Seoul on May 3, 2024, calling for the government to abandon its plan to increase medical student enrollment. (Yonhap) Doctors on a one-day break hold up signs at Asan Medical Center in Seoul on May 3, 2024, calling for the government to abandon its plan to increase medical student enrollment. (Yonhap)

Medical professors at major hospitals took a day off Friday, the third of its kind in two weeks, as they expressed fatigue from filling the void of trainee doctors who left their worksites in protest of the government's medical reform.

While fatigued medical professors take a leave of absence, treatment of critically ill patients and inpatient services at their hospitals are provided, according to the hospitals.

Medical professors took a day off on April 30 and May 3, but no major disruptions of public health services were reported.

On Friday, some medical professors at four major hospitals in Seoul -- Seoul National University Hospital, Asan Medical Center, Severance Hospital and Seoul St. Mary's Hospital -- took a voluntary leave of absence.

It was unclear how many professors took a day off, but their action is expected to affect some 50 hospitals nationwide.

The professors, who are senior doctors at general hospitals, started taking a weekly day off in solidarity with some 12,000 trainee doctors who have left their worksites since Feb. 20 in protest of the plan to boost the number of medical students by 2,000.

The weekly day off came amid the prolonged standoff between the government and the medical community on the medical reform.

On the previous day, President Yoon Suk Yeol said in a press conference that the reform plan "is a task that can no longer be delayed," indicating the government intends to accomplish the initiative despite the protest.

During a press briefing, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said the government does not have an immediate plan to allow foreign doctor license holders to practice in the country.

The remark came after the health ministry said earlier this week that those holding a medical license issued by foreign nations would be allowed to legally practice medicine in South Korea in the event that the government declares a top-level medical service warning.

"The revision is a preemptive and supplementary measure to prepare for a potential future emergency," Park said. "Currently, the government does not have immediate plans to deploy foreign doctors, as the existing emergency medical system is being maintained effectively, despite some challenges."

Park added that even if foreign doctors are deployed, they will only be authorized to administer treatments under the supervision of local doctors.

The government will implement strict safety measures to ensure that only doctors whose skills have been verified are allowed to treat the people, he said.

The government, meanwhile, also plans to submit minutes and other documents to verify that the decision to increase the number of medical school students by 2,000 was based on scientific grounds to the Seoul High Court on Friday.

The move came as doctors raised suspicions that the minutes may not exist, although the government claimed that all required meetings were documented.

"We will faithfully submit all documents that are required," Park said.

The government also held the second round of a presidential committee on medical reform launched last month to resolve the issue on the day, although doctors have been boycotting the platform, calling for a complete abandonment of the plan.

Key agendas discussed during the meeting included enhancing the capabilities of general hospitals and improving compensation for medical services, Park added. (Yonhap)