South Korean Medical Professors to Cut Working Hours Amid Junior Doctors’ Walkout

SEOUL — In response to escalating fatigue from an ongoing junior doctors' strike, South Korean medical professors are set to reduce their working hours this week, a decision that community doctors are preparing to emulate.

According to Yonhap News Agency, statements made by an emergency response committee representing medical professors nationwide, senior doctors at major hospitals will initiate reduced working hours starting Monday. This adjustment comes in the wake of a significant walkout by junior doctors that has put additional strain on medical faculties, pushing many to their physical limits despite efforts to manage patient care effectively.

The committee, led by Bang Jae-seung, has disclosed that a survey at a university hospital revealed professors' weekly work hours vary between 60 to 98 hours. The new plan mandates that professors take time off following any 24-hour continuous work period to alleviate their burdens. As a result, they will prioritize critical care and emergencies, while scaling down elective surgeries and outpatient services.

Bang emphasized the commitment to prioritizing urgent patient care, expressing regret for any inconvenience to the public but underscoring the necessity of these measures to safeguard both patient and medical staff well-being.

This development follows the recent decision by a separate medical professors' association to limit weekly work hours to 52, focusing their efforts on critical and emergency cases starting the same Monday. Additionally, the Korean Medical Association announced that community doctors would cap their patient care hours at 40 per week.

Prof. Kim Sung-geun, associated with the Korean Medical Association, highlighted the consensus among community doctors regarding the 40-hour work week, suggesting that many are ready to adopt this model, which they view as a sustainable approach to maintaining patient care without compromising physician well-being.

This shift in work hours coincides with ongoing concerns about healthcare delivery, notably highlighted by the tragic case of a 33-month-old girl who died after being unable to secure a transfer for necessary treatment, an incident currently under government scrutiny for potential links to the strike-induced service gaps.

The Health Ministry, led by Minister Cho Kyoo-hong, convened a meeting to address the evolving situation, focusing on ensuring emergency room and intensive care unit operations. The government has expressed its determination to implement robust measures in response to the escalating healthcare challenges posed by both the strike and the adjustments in physician work schedules.

The nationwide strike by trainee doctors, protesting a planned increase in medical school admissions, underscores deeper issues within South Korea's healthcare system, reflecting tensions over policy directions and the need for sustainable solutions to ensure both healthcare quality and provider well-being.

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