South Korea’s Presidential Office Declares Medical School Quota Increase Final Amid Doctor Protests

SEOUL — The South Korean government has firmly stated that the decision to expand the medical school quota by 2,000 seats next year is final, confronting opposition and threats of collective action from the medical community.

According to Yonhap News Agency, this increase from the current 3,058 seats is a response to the country's acute shortage of doctors in essential areas, despite medical professionals' preference for lower-risk, non-essential practices. The official criticized the doctors' planned protests as unjustified, highlighting the prolonged discussions on the need for more medical professionals and the urgency of implementing the policy.

The Korea Medical Association (KMA), representing doctors, announced plans for nationwide protest rallies on Thursday, marking the first organized action since entering emergency mode in response to the quota increase. Similarly, the Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) is considering collective action, with a recent survey indicating that 88% of its members are prepared to join the protests. KIRA scheduled a meeting to finalize their plans.

The government has warned of strong measures against striking doctors, including the potential revocation of medical licenses for those failing to comply with work orders, as outlined in the Medical Service Act. Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong emphasized that any strikes would be met with actions based on legal principles and duties, stressing the government's intention to ensure hospitals remain sustainable workplaces. Cho appealed to the medical community for trust in the government's sincerity, amid widespread protests and concerns over the expanded medical school quota.

In anticipation of disruptions to medical services due to the protests, the health ministry has set up an emergency hotline for complaints, indicating readiness to address any resultant challenges in healthcare provision.

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