South Korea trainee doctors to quit in protest over plan to add physicians

By Thomson Reuters Feb 15, 2024 | 8:15 PM

By Ju-min Park and Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – About 20% of South Korea’s trainee doctors said on Friday they would resign effective Tuesday to protest a government plan to admit more students to medical schools, saying this would hurt the national health insurance scheme.

Representatives of the trainees, who work at the country’s five biggest hospitals, all in Seoul, have decided to leave their posts on Tuesday, the head of the Korea Interns and Residents Association (KIRA), Park Dan, said in a statement.

The government has said it will respond firmly to doctor strikes and vows to go ahead with the plan, which got strong public support in opinion polls last year.

The trainee doctors, estimated by media reports to number about 2,700, are about a fifth of the country’s interns and resident doctors. The system relies on them for emergency and acute healthcare, raising concerns about how the action could affect hospitals.

Doctors and medical students say the government’s plan would encourage unnecessary medical care by increasing the number of doctors and making care more accessible. This would worsen the finances of the national health insurance plan, they say.

They complain the plan will not address the overburdening of large teaching hospitals and a lack of incentives for doctors to practice in basic fields such as paediatrics and obstetrics.

The government plans to raise medical school admissions by 2,000 students for the 2025 academic year to add 10,000 doctors by 2035. Currently about 3,000 students enter medical schools each year.

The plan focuses on increasing doctors outside Seoul and in basic fields and expanding protections for the profession against malpractice suits and prosecution.

Doctors throughout the country held rallies on Thursday, calling on the government to scrap the plan.

A proposal by the government in 2020 to increase medical school admissions by 4,000 over 10 years was shelved after intense opposition from the medical community and a strike by trainee doctors.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)