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Only 5% of trainee doctors return to hospitals amid protracted walkout

By Yonhap

Published : May 21, 2024 - 21:16

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Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo and government officials hold emergency meeting, Tuesday. (Yonhap) Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo and government officials hold emergency meeting, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

Only 5 percent of the trainee doctors who have left their worksites for three months have returned to hospitals, a senior official said Tuesday, though the government renewed its appeal for them to resolve the protracted standoff over medical reform through dialogue.

Most junior doctors, however, have rather called on the government to accept their resignations swiftly, vowing not to back down and seek career paths as doctors other than becoming specialist doctors at major hospitals.

According to the health ministry, 659 junior doctors, or 5.1 percent of some 13,000 trainee doctors at 100 major training hospitals, had returned to work as of Monday.

The trainee doctors have remained off the job since late February in protest of the government's plan to increase the medical school admission quota. Last week, a Seoul appellate court rejected an injunction filed by the medical community to block the government's plan, paving the way for authorities to proceed with the reform.

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters that the court's ruling "finished" the plan to hike the number of medical students, and he renewed the calls for trainee doctors to return to work.

"I once again call for the medical community to stop its collective action and engage in constructive dialogue," Park said.

Officials have warned that junior doctors may face a one-year delay in getting medical fellowships because they will not be eligible for next year's test to become fellow doctors unless they are trained at hospitals for more than three months.

In the wake of the court's ruling, the government has called on universities to quickly revise their regulations to reflect the increased medical school enrollment quota for next year.

Many trainee doctors have lashed out at the government for not accepting their resignations while "threatening" to suspend their licenses.

Junior doctors submitted their resignations en masse in February upon their walkout.

"The government has repeated illegitimate steps by extending 'real' deadlines. What it needs to do is just accept our resignations and let us take a new path as doctors." a striking doctor said.

Another doctor said, "I thought it was my calling to care for patients. But I've been skeptical about continuing to do this job as trainee doctors have been blamed so much like this. Such a sense of frustration is shared by many."

Whether to return to work now solely depends on individuals' decisions, and their return to work will not be subject to any condemnation among colleagues, the doctors said.

"No one would blame those who opt to return to work due to personal reasons. There has been such a consensus mainly because some have suffered economic difficulties and they're doing part-time jobs, such as private tutoring and deliveries," another doctor said. (Yonhap)