SEOUL - South Korean doctors are set to stage nationwide rallies this week, opposing the government's proposal to increase enrollment quotas for medical schools, a move that comes amid concerns of a potential strike that could disrupt healthcare services, officials announced on Sunday. The protests, organized by the Korean Medical Association (KMA), represent the group's first collective action since entering emergency mode in reaction to the government's decision aimed at addressing a doctor shortage.
According to Yonhap News Agency, the decision to hold protests was spurred by the health ministry's announcement last week of plans to raise the medical student enrollment quota by 2,000 next year, bringing the total to over 5,000. This policy is intended to alleviate the persistent shortfall of medical professionals in rural regions and key healthcare sectors. However, doctors have countered with threats of a large-scale strike in protest of the quota hike.
Details regarding the scale of the rallies and the number of participants are still pending, as the KMA also considers convening a national meeting of doctor delegates to strategize future actions. The government, in turn, has pledged a firm reaction to any collective actions taken by the medical community.
Adding to the opposition, the Korea Emergency Medical Association announced on Sunday its formation of an emergency council to partake in the KMA-led collective actions. The association emphasized its demand for "decent environments where doctors can save the lives of the people," urging the government to engage in dialogue and collaborate on addressing the quota issue. The group warned that without signs of government compromise, medical professionals across the country would halt medical care services.
The medical community has voiced concerns that increasing enrollment quotas could dilute the quality of medical education and services. Instead, they argue, the government should focus on better distributing physicians across the country and enhancing compensation to effectively tackle the shortages in rural areas and in critical but "less popular" medical fields such as pediatrics and obstetrics.