South Korea to send military doctors to hospitals amid doctors’ protest

By Thomson Reuters Feb 28, 2024 | 3:24 AM

By Jack Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea will send its military and community doctors to hospitals within the next few days as part of emergency measures to support the healthcare system after a mass walkout by trainee doctors, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said on Wednesday.

Han also pleaded with the young doctors to return to work by a Thursday deadline set by the government, and said the authorities would listen to their concerns.

“The government fully understands that trainee doctors have serious concerns about the work environment and future career, and we are seeking measures to improve this from a number of perspectives,” he told a government meeting.

Two-thirds of the nation’s residents and intern doctors had walked off the job to protest a government plan to increase the number of students admitted to medical school in a bid to address what authorities say is a shortage of doctors.

The young doctors who are protesting say the government should first address pay and working conditions before trying to increase the number of physicians.

The government has warned it could suspend the licenses of the doctors who do not comply with the back-to-work order.

Starting next month, doctors who are serving in the military and at local clinics in lieu of mandatory military service will be assigned to hospitals affected by the walkout, Han said.

About 9,000 trainee doctors have joined the protest, disrupting services at large hospitals which were forced to turn away some patients and cancel surgeries and procedures.

Senior doctors and private practitioners have also opposed the government plan to increase new medical school admissions, saying the medical community was not sufficiently consulted.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has said that the plan, which has widespread support among Koreans, was not up for discussion and that there was no justification for doctors to leave their jobs.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Miral Fahmy)