Junior Doctors In South Korea Risking Medical License Suspension And Prosecution Due To Wa...

Around 9,000 medical interns and junior doctors in South Korea have walked out of their jobs last week to protest a new government plan that would increase medical school admissions by around 65%. The government has now responded and given the walkout participants four days to return to work or they will potentially face consequences.

Embed from Getty Images

Last week in South Korea, about 9,000 medical interns and residents walked out of their jobs to protest a new government plan that would increase medical school admissions by around 65%. This Monday, the government responded and gave the junior doctors four days to end the walkouts or they will have their medical licenses suspended or could face prosecution. 

The walkouts, according to the Associated Press, have greatly impacted how the hospitals operate, and numerous surgeries and treatments have had to be canceled. The government officials also stated that the nation needs more doctors in general to assist with South Korea’s rapidly aging population. 

South Korea’s current doctor-to-patient ratio is close to the lowest in the developed world, according to reports. The individuals striking, however, have claimed that universities won’t be able to handle the influx of new students should the government plan be implemented, and it would not resolve any of the medical staffing shortage issues especially in lower-paying sectors such as pediatrics and emergency departments. 

Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo stated during a televised briefing on Monday that the government won’t pursue any disciplinary action against the doctors that are striking as long as they return by Thursday.

“We want them to return to work by the end of this month, Feb. 29. If they return to the hospitals they had left by then, we won’t hold them responsible” for any damage caused by their walkouts. It’s not too late. Please, return to patients immediately.”

For the doctors who don’t comply by that deadline, they will be punished with a minimum three-month suspension of their medical licenses and could face further legal action. South Korea’s medical law states that the government can issue mandatory back-to-work orders to doctors and other medical personnel if they see “grave risks to public health,” according to reports.

Hyeondeok Choi is a partner with Daeryun, a law firm, which specializes in medical law. Choi stated that it’s “highly unlikely the government will suspend the licenses of all doctors on strike, as that would cause an enormous medical vacuum,” according to AP.

There are currently around 13,000 medical interns and residents in South Korea working throughout 100 hospitals. This bracket of junior doctors represents around 30% to 40% of total doctors at some major hospitals. The Korea Medical Association, which represents around 140,000 doctors, spoke to AP about the current strike.   

Embed from Getty Images

“[The Korea Medical Association] supports the striking doctors, but [it] hasn’t determined whether to join the trainee doctors’ walkouts.”

Embed from Getty Images

The specific government plan that the young doctors are striking against would allow universities to admit 2,000 more medical students starting next year. Currently, universities admit 3,058 medical students a year, and the government is hoping to add up to 10,000 doctors within the next decade.

The doctors on strike are worried that this increase in doctors would burden medical expenses, while a public survey showed that 80% of the South Koreans involved thought the plan was a good thing, according to AP.

Park Min-soo stated that South Korea’s medical services for emergency and critical patients remain stable while public medical facilities are increasing their hours.

Regardless, the staffing issues need to be fixed. AP reported that an elderly woman died last Friday after suffering a heart attack and being turned away from seven hospitals due to the fact that the facilities didn’t have enough medical staff working.