Gov’t implores medical professors not to resign in support of junior doctors’ walkout

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks at a briefing in goverment complex, Sejong, March 13. Yonhap

Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo speaks at a briefing in goverment complex, Sejong, March 13. Yonhap

The health ministry on Wednesday implored medical professors not to resign in support of a mass walkout by junior doctors as their labor action showed signs of escalating, with disruptions in medical services continuing for more than three weeks.

More than 90 percent of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors walked off the job in the form of mass resignations to protest the government’s decision to increase enrollment at medical schools by 2,000 spots.

Since early this week, medical school professors have threatened to submit resignations en masse unless the government presents a breakthrough in the prolonged walkout.

“If professors also resign, there will be no way for trainee doctors who have already left worksites to return,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters.

Protesting medical students to press for schools' granting of their leave of absence requests

Park said medical professors “will lose the people” if they resign en masse, adding that the government is also willing to hold talks with medical professors.

“The government will make utmost efforts to prevent professors from resigning,” Park said, adding that the government could not maintain the current “emergencies” if medical professors join the labor action by trainee doctors.

Still, it is unclear how many medical professors would resign, and the government has said it would consider issuing a back-to-work order to the professors if they do so.

On the previous day, representatives of professors from 19 medical schools convened an online meeting to deliberate their course of action and decided to collect opinions until Friday.

The government, meanwhile, decided to offer 94.8 billion won ($72.1 million) to public hospitals this year to address the prolonged medical vacuum.

Local hospitals have been experiencing cancellations and delays in surgeries and emergency medical treatment, as medical interns and residents remained silent on the government’s call for them to return by the end of February.

Korea has been pushing to increase physician numbers as a way to resolve the shortage of doctors in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as pediatrics and neurosurgery, and also given the super-aging population.

Doctors say the quota hikes will undermine the quality of medical education and other services and result in higher medical costs for patients. They have called for measures to first address the underpaid specialists and improve the legal protection against excessive medical malpractice lawsuits. (Yonhap)

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