[Editorial] Korean public will not abide doctors’ threats of ‘health care catastrophe’

Posted on : 2024-02-19 16:48 KST Modified on : 2024-02-19 16:52 KST
Doctors are severely disconnected from the public, which has clearly expressed its desire for an increase in medical school students
A patient at a university hospital in Seoul stands outside the entrance to the emergency room on Feb. 18. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)
A patient at a university hospital in Seoul stands outside the entrance to the emergency room on Feb. 18. (Baek So-ah/The Hankyoreh)

In its attempt to prevent the increase of the nationwide medical school admission cap, the Korean Medical Association (KMA) is resorting to threatening the public with a “health care catastrophe.”
 
Using the pain of their patients as leverage to protect their privileges is a bridge too far. Such selfish collective action will not win over the public, the majority of which already wants the admission cap to be increased. 

In a statement put out on Sunday, the KMA’s emergency committee to prevent the increase of the nationwide medical school admission cap stated, “If the government tries to frame medical students and residents as engaging in unconstitutional actions when they are simply acting on a voluntary basis, it will be met with a health care catastrophe.”
 
This statement was released after Prime Minister Han Duck-soo’s address to the nation that day, in which he called the health care reform “a demand of the era that can no longer be delayed,” and appealed to interns and residents to “stay with their patients and protect the field.”

The KMA has decried efforts to increase the number of medical school students as “an attempt to create a Cuban-style, socialist health care system” while criticizing the government’s “demonization of doctors and their witch hunts against them.” 

The day before, the KMA’s emergency committee declared, “If there is any fallback on doctors and their medical licenses, then we will view the move as a direct offense against doctors.” 

“They have waded into waters they cannot handle,” the KMA committee warned. 

In response to the government’s stern countermeasures, doctors issued a de facto declaration of war, holding patients and their families hostage. Regarding the shortage of doctors in the provinces and rural areas, Joo Soo-ho, a former KMA president, has remarked, “The countryside doesn’t have a shortage of doctors. The provinces simply have a lower standard of living,” all but calling those who live outside the Seoul capital area uncivilized. Joo and the KMA have clearly failed to grasp the fury of the people, who are fed up with the arrogance of doctors clinging to their privilege.  

Residents at major Seoul hospitals have vowed to tender their resignations en masse by Sunday. They have declared that they will stop working as of Tuesday, sparking concerns about delays in surgeries for patients in critical care and other medical disasters. 

Doctors are severely disconnected from the public, which has clearly expressed its desire for an increase in medical school students. Results of a poll conducted by Gallup Korea released on Friday showed that 76% of respondents supported increasing the number of medical school students, as opposed to 16% of respondents who said “there are more negative effects.” In a survey conducted by the Korean Health and Medical Workers' Union at the end of last year, 89.3% of respondents supported increasing the number of medical school students. 

Nations like Japan, Germany and the UK have all steadily increased the number of medical school students to meet the needs of their aging societies. South Korea is the only country where doctors have banded together in staunch opposition to such an increase. We have maintained the same number of medical school students since 1998. Since then, however, the country has seen steady population aging. Gaps in the medical system and shortages in medical personnel are causing many to suffer, and others to die. 

We cannot further ignore pressing issues by kowtowing to the egotistical interests of doctors.

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

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