Even as patient care system reels, Korean doctors double down on protests

Posted on : 2024-02-26 17:16 KST Modified on : 2024-02-26 17:16 KST
If medical school professors and private practice doctors also join in the protests by no longer seeing patients, the widespread gaps in medical care already affecting the public will become even more pronounced
Participants in a march organized by the Korean Medical Association protesting the government’s increase in the medical school admissions quota march toward the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Feb. 25, 2024. (Yonhap)
Participants in a march organized by the Korean Medical Association protesting the government’s increase in the medical school admissions quota march toward the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Feb. 25, 2024. (Yonhap)

After the South Korean government elevated the public health and medical crisis to the highest level of “severe” amid a walkout by medical interns and residents nationwide, members of the country’s largest doctor lobby held an emergency meeting where they reiterated their intent to fight the administration on its plan to increase medical school admission quotas.
 
The Korean Medical Association claims that raising the cap on admissions will not lead to an influx of doctors into essential medical fields facing shortages in the country, nor will it address the shortages of doctors in rural areas, and have vowed to protest the government’s policy “to the end.”
 
The association’s emergency steering committee held an expanded meeting with local chapter leaders from across the country at the association’s headquarters in Yongsan on Sunday to discuss measures to block the government’s plan to increase the number of medical students.
 
“The aim of us 140,000 physicians” — referring to the ranks of the KMA — “is to see the administrations’ mistaken policy reexamined from square one,” said KMA emergency committee chairperson Kim Taek-woo on Sunday. “Professors will do everything in their power to stand by medical residents and interns so that they are not hurt in the process.”
 
If medical school professors and private practice doctors also join in the protests by no longer seeing patients, the widespread gaps in medical care already affecting the public will become even more pronounced.
 
After the meeting, the KMA organized a march from the association’s headquarters to the presidential office in Yongsan. 

Speaking at the rally, Kim Bo-seok, the secretary general of the organization’s Busan chapter stated, “The state should emulate Hippocrates, the father of medicine, instead of forcing private sector medical professionals to shoulder the entire burden. The fact that the government believes that raising the cap on admissions will lead to a trickle-down effect into essential medical care is laughable.”
 
Lee Yoon-soo, who represents the Seoul chapter in the KMA house of delegates, claimed, “The issue of shortage of doctors in the obstetrics, gynecology and pediatrics fields is something that the government should tackle as part of its mission to solve the declining birth rate. Whenever I see the government touting the nonexistent need for the hike in medical school admissions, it makes my blood boil.”
 
Members of the nation’s largest physicians lobby raised their voices toward the presidential office, demanding that the promise to increase medical school placements be scrapped.

“Imagine there’s a four-person household. Now imagine the government says three more people will be moving in. That’s what’s currently happening,” said Kim Taek-woo. 

“When one’s children are upset, a parent should first listen to what’s making them angry and comfort them. But before even hearing our side, the government whipped out its belt, and when that didn’t work, it picked up a billy club. When that didn’t work, now it’s threatening to lock us up,” the KMA emergency committee leader went on. 

“Is this what the Republic of Korea has become?” he asked.

By Go Na-rin, staff reporter; Kim Yoon-ju, staff reporter

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