Appellate court rejects injunction to halt gov’t's medical school quota increase

May 17, 2024

A Seoul appellate court rejected Thursday an injunction sought by the doctors’ community to halt the government’s highly contested plan to increase the nationwide medical school admission quota, paving the way for the first such quota hike in 27 years.

The Seoul High Court made the decision on an injunction filed by trainee doctors, medical professors and students seeking to suspend the government’s plan to increase the medical school quota by 2,000 starting in the 2025 academic year.

This would pave the way for the government to finalize the first medical school quota hike in 27 years, aimed at addressing chronic shortages in essential but unpopular medical fields as well as remote rural areas.

With the legal limbo lifted, the government is expected to expedite the process of having increased medical quotas reflected in universities’ 2025 admission announcements to be made public by late May or early June.

A lower court had previously dismissed the case last month, concluding that the petitioners had no specific interests compromised by the quota hike and hence were ineligible for an injunction.

The high court, to which the case was appealed, upheld the lower court’s reasoning in dismissing the case again.

The appellate court acknowledged the legal eligibility of incumbent medical students in the injunction, as they have legally guaranteed interests connected to the quota hike. The court still decided to dismiss the case on the grounds that “Granting the injunction could have grave impacts on public welfare.”

The court went on to point out, however, that admitting an additional 2,000 medical students annually could seriously compromise the learning rights of current medical students, saying that future medical quotas should be determined in a way that minimizes any infringement upon their rights.

The medical community said it will immediately appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court and ask for swift deliberation on the case, considering the gravity of the situation.

In March, the government allocated 2,000 additional medical school admission seats to universities, many of them to schools outside the greater Seoul area, despite trainee doctors’ collective action to walk off their duties at major hospitals in protest.

About 20 legal actions have been taken by the doctors’ community and medical students to halt the quota hike, but no court rulings have been made so far in favor of them.

Thursday’s court ruling marks the culmination of the monthslong government-medical row over the quota hike plan.

The majority of intern and resident doctors have walked off their duties at major hospitals since late February in collective action protesting the hike, causing disruptions in health care services nationwide.

It remains unclear whether the court decision in favor of the government would prompt the striking doctors to return to work immediately, particularly given the doctors’ community’s staunch demand to shelve the quota hike plan entirely.

An association of medical professors has warned that it would initiate a one-week suspension of medical services and opt out of services one day every week if the court rejects the injunction.