SEOUL, South Korea's rival parties welcomed the government's plan to increase the enrollment quota of medical schools Tuesday, saying such a change is necessary to improve medical services and prepare for the country's aging population.
The rare show of unity comes amid reports the government is considering drastically increasing the number of new enrollments at medical schools, which have been fixed at a total of 3,058 over the past 19 years.
In 2021, South Korea had 2.6 physicians per 1,000 people, which is significantly below the average of 3.7 of the members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, according to professor Kim Yoon at Seoul National University College of Medicine.
Advocates say an increase is necessary to address physician shortages in provincial areas and less preferred specialties, such as pediatrics, and better prepare for a future increase in health care demand from the country's aging population. Doctors, on the other hand, have expressed strong opposition, arguing a quota increase will contribute little to solving the problem without a fundamental change to South Korea's medical system.
If the government decides to increase the new quota, it will begin affecting medical schools in 2025.
On Tuesday, the ruling People Power Party (PPP) reiterated the government's stance, saying a quota increase is needed to improve the country's medical system.
"Looking at the current state of medical services and future trends in health care demand, it is abundantly clear that expanding medical school enrollments is a fundamental necessity," said Rep. Yun Jae-ok, the floor leader of the PPP, in a party meeting.
The government and the ruling party are ready to discuss the demands put forward by doctors, such as improving doctors' working conditions and increasing fees in essential medical fields, Yun said, and proposed that doctor groups resolve the matter through dialogue instead of a strike.
The main opposition Democratic Party (DP) also welcomed the move from the presidential office, expressing willingness to engage in talks on related legislative efforts.
"We welcome the Yoon Suk Yeol government's move to increase the enrollment quota of medical schools. The DP is always open to dialogue that is beneficial to the people," said Rep. Kim Sung-joo at a party meeting.
Kim suggested the government come up with additional measures to level out the number of doctors between rural and urban areas. He proposed establishing state-backed medical schools in provincial regions and setting up a fixed quota of physicians mandated to practice in rural areas.
Source: Yonhap News Agency