South Korean Doctors Protest Government’s Medical Reform Plan

SEOUL — Nearly 9,000 trainee doctors across South Korea have offered to resign or have stopped working in protest against the government's plan to increase the medical school admission quota by 2,000 students annually. This mass protest has led to the postponement of 30 to 50 percent of surgeries at the nation's five largest hospitals, highlighting the severity of the crisis.

According to Yonhap News Agency, the Ministry of Health and Welfare has responded by ordering more than 6,000 interns and residents to return to their duties and has threatened administrative actions, including revoking medical licenses for non-compliance. The government's firm stance is further underscored by a joint announcement from the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Interior and Safety, along with law enforcement agencies, stating their intent to arrest those leading the illegal collective action and to take stern measures against anyone obstructing medical services or the return to work of medical professionals.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has emphasized the critical nature of the situation, stating that trainee doctors and medical students must not compromise public health and safety. He justified the increase in medical school quotas as a necessary step to address the collapse of essential healthcare services in provincial regions. The government plans to invest over 10 trillion won by 2028 to enhance healthcare services in critical areas such as pediatrics, emergency medicine, and obstetrics, among others. However, medical associations have criticized the proposed increase in student intake and the government's approach to improving compensation for doctors in essential healthcare, arguing that these measures may not effectively resolve the issues faced by the sector.

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