South Korea’s Government Threatens License Suspensions Amid Doctor Strike

SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean government has issued an ultimatum to trainee doctors, demanding their return to work amid an ongoing strike that reached its seventh day on Monday. The strike, a protest against the government's proposal to increase medical school admissions, has prompted warnings of license suspensions for non-compliant trainee doctors starting next month.

According to Yonhap News Agency, trainee doctors who continue their work stoppage beyond Thursday will face disciplinary actions starting Friday, including a minimum three-month suspension of their medical licenses. This move comes as the standoff between doctors and the government escalates, with concerns for public health intensifying. Park highlighted the severe consequences of license suspension, noting its potential to affect doctors' future career opportunities, both domestically and internationally.

The government has expressed its willingness to engage in dialogue with the medical community, urging the nomination of representatives to facilitate discussion on medical reform. This call for negotiation aims to avert further collective actions that have led to significant disruptions in hospital operations nationwide.

As of now, over 9,000 trainee doctors have abstained from work, and more than 10,000 have submitted resignations, out of approximately 13,000 trainee doctors in the country. The government has assured that no punitive measures will be taken against trainee doctors who resume work by the specified deadline. However, the ongoing strike has not only affected trainee doctors but has also seen participation from senior medical staff, exacerbating the strain on medical services.

Hospitals across South Korea, including major institutions in Seoul and Gwangju, have reported drastic reductions in their operational capacities due to the shortage of medical professionals. The government has also initiated legal actions against those participating in what it deems illegal collective actions.

This dispute stems from the government's initiative to address doctor shortages in rural areas and specific medical fields by increasing the admission quota for medical schools. The medical community, however, argues for alternative solutions, such as better protection from malpractice suits and improved compensation, to encourage practice in less popular specialties.

The Korea Medical Association has condemned the government's stance as coercive, pledging to defend trainee doctors from legal repercussions. This standoff has sparked a broader debate on the future of medical education and healthcare provision in South Korea, with both sides calling for dialogue to resolve the conflict.

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