Korean med schools swallow bitter pill by pushing back classes to avoid mass flunking

Posted on : 2024-04-03 17:39 KST Modified on : 2024-04-03 17:39 KST
Universities with medical programs have been placed in an awkward position by medical students’ walkout in solidarity with trainee doctors
Hospital staff in lab coats walk through the lobby of Chonnam National University Hospital in Gwangju on Feb. 19, 2024. (Yonhap)
Hospital staff in lab coats walk through the lobby of Chonnam National University Hospital in Gwangju on Feb. 19, 2024. (Yonhap)

After President Yoon Suk-yeol reiterated his intention to create 2,000 more placements at Korean medical schools on Monday, the medical education community said that measures must be taken to guarantee that the quality of education does not suffer as a result of an increase in students. Universities with medical programs are also struggling as medical students boycott their classes for a second month.

“Since lowering the quality of education can endanger patients’ safety, maintaining the quality of medical school education should be a prerequisite for increasing placements at medical schools,” the Korean Society of Medical Education said in a statement on Monday.

The society also said it is essential to devise a detailed educational strategy to accommodate increased admissions at medical schools.

“The methods and strategies for education in basic theory and clinical practice must be planned in detail according to the number of increased placements. If we are to encourage more doctors to work in rural areas and provide essential medical services, the selection of medical school students and career instruction are also major considerations,” the academic consortium emphasized.

Universities with medical programs have been placed in an awkward position by medical students’ walkout in solidarity with the trainee doctors. The walkout began on Feb. 19 and is now well into its second month. Applications for leaves of absence have continued to rise, with a total of 10,242 students having applied as of March 31, accounting for 54.5% of all students enrolled in medical colleges across Korea. 

Colleges are refusing to approve these requests for leaves of absence in accordance with a Ministry of Education guideline that says organized collective leaves of absence do not fall under legitimate grounds for eligibility. Instead, schools have continued to push back the start of the regular school year so as to prevent students from automatically failing their courses due to lack of attendance, which would force them to repeat a grade. 

Chung-Ang University College of Medicine has pushed back the first day of classes two times already, to March 8 and then April 1, and has recently pushed it back even later, to May 1. Sungkyunkwan University School of Medicine had been scheduled to start courses in February, but has moved to extend the winter break instead, and plans to begin the semester on April 15. 

Yet some at medical schools argue that colleges should approve students’ requests for leaves of absence. Their reasoning is a concern that if students do indeed flunk this school year or semester, they not only will not be entitled to refunds on their tuition, but they will be left with a mark on their permanent record, which could put them at a disadvantage down the road. 

“It’ll only take one or two weeks for students to start being failed if classes are commenced again, so we’d be better off signing off on leaves of absence,” said Kang Yune-sik, the dean of the Gyeongsang National University College of Medicine. 

One source at Chosun University told the Hankyoreh that schools will “have no option but to consider” approving leaves of absence “when the time comes.” 

Still, the Ministry of Education remains firm in its stance that leaves of absence of this sort cannot be authorized. 

“It is the government’s position that leaves that occur not due to extenuating circumstances that make carrying on with one’s studies difficult but as part of a general boycott are not eligible for authorization,” said Ministry of Education spokesperson Koo Yeon-hee. 

By Kim Min-je, staff reporter; Park Go-eun, staff reporter

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