Advertisement

Burned-out South Korean trainee doctors walked off their jobs over a plan to boost med school enrolment

Doctors hold placards that read 'Opposition to the increase in medical schools' as they gather to protest against the government's plan to raise the annual enrolment quota at medical schools by 2000 in Seoul on February 15, 2024.
Doctors hold placards that read 'Opposition to the increase in medical schools' as they gather to protest against the government's plan to raise the annual enrolment quota at medical schools by 2000 in Seoul on February 15, 2024.Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images
  • South Korean trainee doctors are striking over a plan to increase med school student quotas.

  • They say the country's doctor shortage is due to low wages and poor working conditions in some specialties and areas.

  • The walkout is stoking fears of huge disruptions to the country's strained healthcare system.

Over 1,600 trainee doctors in South Korea walked off their jobs on Tuesday over a government plan to increase med school enrolment quotas, according to media reports.

Separately, over 6,400 trainee doctors — including those on strike — across 100 hospitals have tendered their resignation as of Monday, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency. They comprise nearly half of all 13,000 trainee doctors in South Korea.

The crisis has stoked fears of huge disruptions to the country's already strained healthcare system.

There are 2.6 doctors to 1,000 people in South Korea — well below the average of 3.7 to 1,000 people for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

The South Korean government plans to raise the medical school quota from 3,000 to 5,000 a year to ease the manpower crunch, particularly in rural areas and some specialties like emergency medicine, per Yonhap.

The public supports the move, according to a Gallup poll conducted in February.

However, doctors say the issue isn't a labor shortage but a manpower crunch in some specialties and locations due to low wages and poor working conditions.

Trainee doctors in South Korea regularly work shifts that stretch over 24 hours, according to a survey from a major medical trade union. Many also worked over 80 hours a week.

Doctors also say an increase in medical school enrolment could compromise the quality of education and services, per Yonhap.

Meanwhile, critics said the doctors are protecting their interests as increased professional competition could impact their salaries and social status.

Authorities are calling on doctors to return to work.

"We are deeply disappointed in the situation where trainee doctors are refusing to work," said Park Min-soo, South Korea's second vice health minister on Tuesday, per Yonhap. "We earnestly ask the doctors to withdraw their decision to resign en masse and walk off their jobs."

It's not the first time doctors in South Korea have walked off the jobs against a planned expansion of enrolment in the country's medical school quota.

In 2020, young physicians participated in a strike to protest the move, per the Associated Press. The South Korean government bowed to the pressure and shelved the plan.

Read the original article on Business Insider