Why Korea’s largest doctors association is calling a general strike

Posted on : 2024-06-10 17:56 KST Modified on : 2024-06-10 17:56 KST
Record turnout in polls suggests that this collective action may turn out differently than prior ones
Lim Hyun-taek, the president of the Korean Medical Association, speaks at a rally of the association at its offices in Seoul on June 9, 2024. (Yonhap) 
Lim Hyun-taek, the president of the Korean Medical Association, speaks at a rally of the association at its offices in Seoul on June 9, 2024. (Yonhap) 

Korea’s largest medical association declared on Sunday that its affiliated private practitioners, professors at medical universities, and doctors at government institutions would go on a general strike, saying that they will begin a “collective leave of absence” on June 18. 

In response, patient advocacy groups are calling for the government to stand firm and not give in to the doctors. 

This is the fourth time that the Korean Medical Association (KMA) has organized a general strike in response to the government’s health care reforms, following ones in 2000 to fight the policy calling for the separation of dispensation and prescription of drugs, one in 2014 in opposition to a policy for telemedicine, and another in 2020 to oppose the increase in medical school admissions and establishment of public medical schools. 

“Seoul National University College of Medicine has decided to suspend medical services starting June 17 to protest the government’s administrative punishments levied on medical residents and interns. As such, a general strike starting the next day on June 18 is the best way to force the government to change its attitude on this issue,” said Choi Anna, spokesperson for the KMA.  

The KMA demands that the government completely overhaul its policy on increasing the admissions quota for medical schools in 2025. Since the expansion of medical school admissions for 2025 was finalized last month, this condition is a difficult one for the government to accept. 

“We are asking for one thing when we call for the suspension in the medical school admission expansion for the class of 2025: for the government to acknowledge how faulty this policy is, for those responsible to be held accountable, and for medical residents and interns to be freed from administrative punishment,” Choi said. “Only when the government acknowledges how flawed the policy is can we sit down with the government to sort out this situation without resorting to collective action.” 

The KMA states that it will discuss and announce whether to go forward with collective action only when the expansion for medical school admissions for 2025 is brought to a standstill. It also stated that it would decide whether to continue strikes after June 18 after observing changes in the government’s approach to the issue. 

However, analyses show that the actual participation rate of private practitioners will be lower than that of medical residents, interns and professors. Even when the KMA declared collective action in 2020, less than 10% of private practitioners joined the strike. 

Even in the latest poll, despite 90.6% of respondents stating that they supported the KMA’s hard-line response, only 73.5% of respondents said that they would participate in the strike. 

However, given the “record-breaking turnout,” it is possible that many doctors who run neighborhood clinics will participate in the strike. Choi said, “We have never seen such an overwhelming response to any of the polls that asked our members to participate in our fight for justice.” 
Patient rights organizations have vocally criticized the decision to go on strike. Kim Seong-ju, the chairperson of the Korea Severe Disease Association, called for the government to hold its ground.  

“After seeing the KMA continuously flaunt its power for the sake of its interests, we are now seeing the association pitch itself against the general public by declaring an illegal general strike,” Kim wrote in a statement.  

By Son Ji-min, staff reporter 

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

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