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April 22, 2024

Why South Korean Doctors Have Walked Off the Job

Why South Korean Doctors Have Walked Off the Job

Asia Pacific|South Korean Doctors Walk Out, Protesting Plan to Increase Their Ranks




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Physicians say the government’s plan to admit more students to medical school ignores the real cause of doctor shortages: harsh conditions and low wages.

Doctors demonstrated in Seoul last week against a plan to admit more students to medical schools.Credit…Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

Hundreds of interns and residents at major South Korean hospitals walked off the job on Tuesday, disrupting an essential service to protest the government’s plan to address a shortage of doctors by admitting more students to medical school.

While South Korea takes pride in its affordable health care system, it has among the fewest physicians per capita in the developed world. Its rapidly aging population underscores the acute need for more doctors, according to the government, especially in rural parts of the country and in areas like emergency medicine.

The protesters, who are doctors in training and crucial for keeping hospitals running, say the shortage of doctors is not industrywide but confined to particular specialties, like emergency care. They say the government is ignoring the issues that have made working in those areas unappealing: harsh working conditions and low wages for interns and residents.

Surveys have found that in a given week, doctors in training regularly work multiple shifts that last longer than 24 hours, and that many are on the job for more than 80 hours a week.

“The medical system has been collapsing for a while,” said Park Dan, the head of the Korean Intern Residents Association, who resigned from his job at the emergency wing of Severance Hospital in Seoul on Monday. “I couldn’t see a future for myself working in emergency for the next five or 10 years.”

The current setup of insurance and government payment systems, Mr. Park added, allows physicians only in a few departments, like cosmetic surgery, to make a decent living.

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