The Korea Herald


SNU hospital doctors vow to go on strike amid impasse over striking trainee doctors

By Yonhap

Published : June 6, 2024 - 21:04

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Doctors walk along a corridor at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 6, 2024. (Yonhap) Doctors walk along a corridor at Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on June 6, 2024. (Yonhap)

Professors at four hospitals affiliated with Seoul National University have voted to go on strike later this month if the current impasse over striking trainee doctors is not resolved, their representative said Thursday.

The hospitals conducted surveys on whether to go on strike after the health ministry announced Tuesday it will allow hospitals to accept the resignations of trainee doctors, who have remained off the job since late February in protest of the government's plan to raise the number of medical students.

The first survey, conducted from Monday to Thursday on 939 medical professors, showed that 63.4 percent supported collective action against the government's plan to let go of the striking trainee doctors.

In the second survey, conducted between Wednesday and Thursday, 68.4 percent of 750 respondents said they would join the strike, except for the essential departments, such as the emergency room and the intensive care unit.

An emergency response committee of the hospitals said it plans to begin the strike on June 17 if the government does not take appropriate measures regarding the trainee doctors.

"Unless the government completely revokes the administrative actions against the trainee doctors and takes reasonable measures to normalize the current situation, we will halt medical services starting from that date," the committee said.

Late last month, the government finalized the admission quota hike of some 1,500, marking the first such increase in 27 years. With the admissions hike fixed, the government has weighed taking concessional steps to soothe the trainee doctors.

Still, some trainee doctors said they will not return to hospitals because the hike of medical school admissions was confirmed.

The Korea Medical Association, the country's biggest lobby group for doctors, is also holding a vote on whether to launch a strike. The association plans to announce its future course of action on Thursday based on the poll.

The government has said the medical reforms are essential to brace for the country's fast-aging population and a shortage of physicians in rural areas and essential but low-paying specialties, like pediatrics and emergency departments.

In response, the KMA argues the government plan will not fix fundamental problems in the medical system, including doctor shortages in fields seen as lower paying and a concentration of doctors in urban areas.

Critics say the striking doctors oppose the government plan to safeguard their income.

South Korea's doctor-to-population ratio is one of the lowest among developed countries. The country has a population of about 51 million and 140,000 doctors.