Thursday to mark start of resignations by senior doctors amid standoff with government

Posted on : 2024-04-24 16:40 KST Modified on : 2024-04-24 16:40 KST
One month after tendering their resignations some medical school faculty say they will leave their posts starting Thursday, while others will start weekly work stoppages
Patients sit in a waiting room at a university-affiliated hospital in Daegu, in southwestern Korea, on April 9, 2024. (Yonhap)
Patients sit in a waiting room at a university-affiliated hospital in Daegu, in southwestern Korea, on April 9, 2024. (Yonhap)

Professors at medical colleges throughout Korea are ratcheting up the pressure on the government in protest of the state’s plan to increase the admissions quota for medical schools by warning that they will stop seeing patients one day a week or resign from their posts at the end of the month. 

While many medical school faculty members had submitted their resignations last month, the government is asserting that simply tendering one’s resignations is insufficient, and that university deans need to approve the resignations for professors to be able to officially leave their posts.

“In the current health care emergency, we have no choice but to adjust schedules for treatment and surgeries due to the psychological and physical stress of professors,” the faculty emergency response committee at the University of Ulsan College of Medicine declared after a general meeting on Tuesday. The committee said that starting May 3, all affiliated professors will stop seeing patients altogether one day a week.

This committee includes professors who work at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, one of the nation’s major hospitals.

A coalition of emergency faculty committees at over 20 medical colleges nationwide also held a general meeting on the evening of the same day. The committee agreed to pause surgeries and outpatient care for one day next week. The committee agreed to convene again on Saturday to decide on whether to shut down appointments and surgeries on a regular basis.

The faculty emergency committee for Seoul National University College of Medicine also convened on Tuesday to discuss once-a-week work stoppages. On Monday, the emergency response committees of Chungnam National University Hospital and Sejong Chungnam National University agreed to shutter their hospitals every Friday starting April 26.

“Since the strikes and collective walkouts of medical interns and residents began, medical professors have been performing their duties, including night shifts. But once the professors start resigning or walking, hospitals will be forced to reduce the number of treatments and surgeries,” said Ko Beom-seok, who serves as public relations coordinator for the coalition. 

The main intention behind the collective resignations of medical professors is to pressure the government to scrap its policies on medical school admissions. The emergency faculty coalition, the Medical Professors Association of Korea and the Korean Medical Association have all called for the government to renegotiate the terms of its policies with doctors and the medical community. Some professors have even threatened to leave their posts starting Thursday, which will mark one month to the day since they tendered their resignations.

“Hard-line professors in some of the committees are not even scheduling treatments and surgeries in May in preparation to resign,” said a professor at a private medical college outside the greater Seoul area.

The coalition of faculty emergency committees has also announced that its members will begin resigning on Thursday.

The government, however, has asserted that the resignations submitted by professors will not be valid. The majority of resignations are concentrated within the faculty emergency response committees, and have not been officially submitted to university or hospital administration. According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education, only 7% of some 15,000 professors (around 1,000) have submitted their resignations to official university or hospital administration.

Even if a medical college professor submits a resignation at a university with a dean, the clause in Korea’s civil code that stipulates that resignations will be acknowledged as valid one month after being submitted does not apply in this scenario.

“Professors appointed by a college’s dean are subject to the State Public Officials Act and the Private School Act, which take priority over application of the Civil Act,” said an anonymous Education Ministry official.

“The relevant legislation stipulates that the university dean must review any professor who submits a resignation to see if they are subject to any disciplinary actions, and not authorize their resignations if this is the case,” the official added. 

“That means a professor can only quit once the person who appointed them has verified relevant stipulations and accepted their resignation,” they went on.

The government has urged interns, residents and medical professors to come to the table for negotiations.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Jang Sang-yoon, the presidential office’s senior secretary for social policy, said, “The medical community is closing its ears to the desperate voices of the people and patients. Now is not the time to repeat demands to scrap or revise government policies. I plead with doctors to step forward to partake in the government’s special committee for medical reform, to come to the table for negotiations.” 

The government’s special commission for medical reform is expected to launch on Thursday. Both the KMA and the Korea Interns and Residents Association have rejected offers to take part in the committee.

By Cheon Ho-sung, staff reporter; Kim Min-je, staff reporter; Lee Seung-jun, staff reporter

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