Yoon pledges to meet face-to-face with protesting trainee doctors

Posted on : 2024-04-03 17:27 KST Modified on : 2024-04-03 17:27 KST
The trainee doctors have yet to respond to the president’s proposal amid a tensions between the medical community and the administration
President Yoon Suk-yeol tours Sun Medical Center in Daejeon’s Yuseong District with the hospital’s director on April 1, 2024. (courtesy of the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol tours Sun Medical Center in Daejeon’s Yuseong District with the hospital’s director on April 1, 2024. (courtesy of the presidential office)


President Yoon Suk-yeol said he’s willing to meet directly with the medical interns and residents who are currently on strike. This comes after a request from medical school professors that Yoon sit down with the leaders of the striking trainee doctors.

For the meeting between the two sides to have any chance of resolving the dispute between the government and the medical community, experts say, the government needs to be proactive about setting up a deliberative body and make clear its willingness to budge on the current plan to raise admissions caps at Korea’s medical schools by 2,000 seats.

“While there are numerous organizations in the medical community, President Yoon wants to meet with the trainee doctors, who are behind the strike, and hear from them personally. The presidential office is always open to the public,” a spokesperson for the presidential office said on Tuesday.

“We ask the president to be the first to extend his hands and open his arms. Instead of assuming that these young people are being rebellious and refusing to understand his well-meaning policies, we ask him to lovingly embrace them,” said Cho Yun-jung, the head of public relations for the Medical Professors Association of Korea’s interim leadership.

This is the first time that Yoon has agreed to join dialogue with the trainee doctors, who submitted their collective resignations on Feb. 19. This seems to be part of an attempt to personally persuade them to return to hospitals amid growing public frustration about the prolonged shortage of medical services.

The trainee doctors have not responded to Yoon’s proposal, but Cho did ask Park Dan, the head of the Korean Intern Resident Association, to meet with the president without any preconditions if he’s invited to do so.

Meanwhile, medical services continue to be disrupted.

Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare said Tuesday that the number of Korea’s 43 regional emergency medical centers that cannot treat some patients with serious or even emergency conditions due to staff shortages had increased from 10 in the first week of March to 14 as of the last week of March.

Over the same time frame, 2,697 of 3,068 individuals eligible for medical internships had declined positions at 100 teaching hospitals around the country as of March 29. Since Tuesday was the final day for registering internships, the lack of incoming interns is likely to further reduce medical personnel at the country’s hospitals.

For the trainee doctors to agree first to meet with Yoon and then to return to work, the government needs to make clear whether it’s willing to adjust the number of new placements at the country’s medical schools, experts suggest.

Both medical school professors and trainee doctors have said that a prerequisite for holding talks is rescinding the planned increase of medical school placements. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo met with figures from the medical and educational communities in late March but was unable to meet with medical school professors or trainee doctors because of the government’s insistence on 2,000 more medical school placements.

Yoon hinted at allowing a debate about the number of new placements with his remark on Monday that “change is possible if a more valid and reasonable proposal is made,” but since he also emphasized the need for 2,000 placements at medical schools, the response from the medical establishment has been chilly.

Exports advise the government to clarify its attitude about the number of new medical school placements and to set up a body for dialogue that covers not only the medical community but also the patient lobby and civil society.

“Since the president holds the final authority over policy, he needs to officially add the number of new placements to the agenda before dialogue can begin between the medical community and the government,” said Park Eun-cheol, a professor of preventive medicine at Yonsei University College of Medicine.

“The government needs to make a concession to the doctors by showing willingness to reconsider the 2,000 new medical school placements, while assembling not only doctors but also experts, leaders of civil society and university administrators to join the discussion about adjusting the medical school admissions cap. That’s the only way to ensure we don’t end up with a plan that’s just as divorced from the medical and educational reality as the government’s current plan is,” said Chung Hyung-jun, chief of policy for the Association of Physicians for Humanism.

By Cheon Ho-sung, staff reporter; Kim Yoon-ju, staff reporter; Lim Jae-hee, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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