Seoul Doctors Rally Against Government’s Medical School Quota Increase

SEOUL, South Korea — In a large-scale demonstration, tens of thousands of doctors congregated in Seoul's Yeouido district on Sunday to voice their opposition against the government's plan to increase medical school quotas. The protest, organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), South Korea's largest medical lobby group, underscores the escalating tension between healthcare professionals and the government.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the rally was a response to Prime Minister Han Duck-soo's recent remarks hinting at the possible suspension of medical licenses for trainee doctors who have been on strike. The strike, now in its 13th day, is a protest against the government's decision to add 2,000 medical school seats starting next year, a move that has sparked widespread concern among medical professionals about the potential degradation of medical education and training quality.

The KMA's emergency committee chief, Kim Taek-woo, at the rally's onset, criticized the government for not consulting with the medical community prior to advancing its reform agenda. Kim stressed the need for dialogue to end the ongoing strike and warned of public resistance if the government continues to ignore the doctors' concerns. He emphasized that neither trainee doctors nor the KMA's emergency committee members have ever intended to disrupt medical services.

The strike by approximately 9,000 medical interns and residents, crucial to surgeries and emergency services at major hospitals, has led to significant disruptions, including the cancellation and delay of surgical and emergency treatments. The government had issued an ultimatum for protesting doctors to return to work by the previous Thursday, threatening legal and professional repercussions for non-compliance.

Prime Minister Han has stated the government's readiness to enforce the law to ensure medical services are not compromised, while the presidential office has declared a "zero tolerance" policy following allegations that some doctors were coercing pharmaceutical sales representatives to participate in the protest.

Amid these developments, Interior Minister Lee Sang-min has called for striking trainee doctors to return to their duties, offering leniency for those who comply by Sunday. He argued that the increase in medical school admissions is necessary to meet the workforce demands of the burgeoning bio-industry, which he views as a key growth sector for South Korea.

The situation remains tense as the government and the medical community continue to clash over the medical school quota hike plan, with both sides holding firm to their positions.

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