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No plan to let doctors with foreign licenses practice here anytime soon: PM

By Choi Jeong-yoon

Published : May 10, 2024 - 16:09

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Prime Minister Han Duck-soo speaks during a government meeting at the government complex building in Seoul on May 10, 2024. (Yonhap) Prime Minister Han Duck-soo speaks during a government meeting at the government complex building in Seoul on May 10, 2024. (Yonhap)

After strong defiance from Korean doctors on the government’s plan to allow those holding foreign medical licenses to practice medicine in the country, a scheme to let such doctors practice medicine here is unlikely to take effect anytime soon.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said Friday that there are no immediate plans to bring in foreign license holders to fill the current medical void, emphasizing that if such a situation were to arise, sufficient safety measures would be put in place.

Earlier this week, the Health Ministry announced that it would make revisions to the enforcement of the Medical Service Act, allowing foreign medical license holders to practice and provide services legally in the country upon the approval of the health minister.

The ministry made prior legislative notice to collect opinions until May 20.

“The amendment to the enforcement of the Medical Act is to lay the groundwork for preemptive and complementary measures to prepare for possible contingencies in the future,” said Han adding that the decision is to protect the medical system and solidify the foundation for an emergency medical care system.

“We will ensure thorough safety measures so that under no circumstances should unverified doctors be allowed to treat our citizens,” Han pledged, stressing that foreign doctors would only be able to perform pre-approved medical procedures within a limited period, at designated medical institutions, and under the guidance of local medical specialists.

The announcement came as the country experiences shortages of medical personnel as a collective walkout by junior doctors enters its 12th week. The walkout is in protest of the government's push to increase the annual medical student quota starting next year.

Meanwhile, professors at medical hospitals decided to take a one-day leave of absence on Friday, also in protest against the government’s medical school enrollment hike plan.

However, as they will maintain medical treatment and surgery for emergency, critical, and hospitalized patients despite the suspension, it is expected to cause limited disruption in the medical field.

The emergency committee for national medical professors on May 3 decided to take a weekly day off amid the struggle to fill the void of trainee doctors, who first walked out on April 30.

Professors at major hospitals in Seoul, such as Seoul National University Hospital, Asan Medical Center, and Severance Hospital, are also likely to participate in the weekly break. However, as taking an absence is not mandatory, the participation rate is hard to predict and the leave of some professors will have little impact on hospitals, watchers said.