|Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong holds a meeting in Seoul on Feb. 12, 2024./ Source: Ministry of Health and Welfare
AsiaToday reporter Hong Sun-mi
The government is paying keen attention as the general strike of medical organizations such as the Korean Medical Association (KMA) is looming. The KMA hinted a full-fledged struggle after the Lunar New Year holidays following the Ministry of Health and Welfare’s announcement of the expansion of the medical school quota last Tuesday. Conflicts between doctors and the government are expected to begin in earnest as the government warned of tough response, such as issuing an order for doctors to return to work if they go on a strike.
According to the medical community on Monday, the Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) held an online extraordinary general meeting of members on the last day of the Lunar New Year holidays to discuss countermeasures. The KIRA said its survey conducted on around 10,000 intern and resident doctors showed that 88 percent of the respondents agreed with taking collective action.
On February 7, a day after the government’s announcement, the KMA held an emergency meeting and decided to form its emergency response committee. The nation’s largest coalition of doctors will hold massive rallies across the nation on Thursday and hold a national meeting of doctors in Seoul on Saturday.
Under the previous Moon Jae-in administration in 2020, doctors went on strike nationwide against the same issue of medical school expansion. As the government and the medical community are expected to clash again, there is a growing concern over medical shortages.
However, unlike the previous government, the Yoon Suk-yeol administration sees the medical school quota expansion as a medical reform task that cannot be delayed anymore. The government discussed countermeasures in case of emergency. During the holidays, it held a meeting of central incident management headquarters over potential doctors’ collective action.
The presidential office said doctors’ planned collective action lacks justification. “The issue of expanding the quota has long been discussed and no progress has been made,” a senior official at the presidential office told reporters. “I believe that collective action by doctors has no justification.”
The official added that previous administrations have missed the proper timing to raise the medical school quota and it cannot be delayed anymore.