Why around 9,000 doctors in South Korea have walked off their jobs in protest

Why around 9,000 doctors in South Korea have walked off their jobs in protest
via Associated Press
Michelle De Pacina
March 4, 2024
Thousands of doctors in South Korea protested in Seoul against the government’s plan to increase medical school admissions and its perceived lack of support for the healthcare system.
The government’s plans: To address changing healthcare demands in a rapidly aging society, the South Korean government proposed to admit 2,000 students to medical schools per year, totaling 5,000 by 2025. 
The walkout: However, licensed doctors and trainees are protesting against the government, arguing that they should first prioritize addressing issues related to pay and working conditions before attempting to boost the number of physicians. Since Feb. 20, around 9,000 out of the country’s 13,000 resident and intern doctors have walked off the job in protest, and on Sunday, thousands of doctors gathered in Seoul to hold a rally.
Doctors’ concerns: Doctors express concerns about broader healthcare challenges, including staffing needs in specific fields, treatment pricing and proper educational infrastructure for new medical students. Trainee doctors also express anger over difficult working conditions that include inadequate compensation and extended work hours.
Government’s response: In response, the government had to mobilize military doctors and grant legal protection for nurses to perform certain medical procedures during the strike. On Tuesday, President Yoon Suk-yeol asserted that his government would stand firm on its plans for medical reform, emphasizing that safeguarding vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly and people with disabilities, aligns with the government’s core welfare policy.
Taking legal action: The government has since issued a back-to-work order, warning the striking doctors of administrative and legal repercussions, including a minimum three-month license suspension, imprisonment of up to three years or a 30 million won ($22,480) fine, if they did not return to work by Feb. 29. On Monday, government officials reportedly visited about 50 hospitals to officially verify the absence of striking doctors, informing them about their impending license suspensions.
Protest continues: Despite government warnings, many doctors still vow to push for their demands. While legal action is expected, experts suggest the government may target fewer than 100 leading strikers for license suspension. In support of the doctors and the protest, the Korea Medical Association will provide economic support for the striking doctors if their licenses are suspended.
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