Gov’t calls for junior doctors who left worksites to return to hospitals by Monday

May 20, 2024

Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong called for junior doctors who left worksites for months to return to hospitals by Monday, while urging the medical community to resolve a protracted standoff over the government’s medical reform through dialogue.

The latest appeal by Cho came as a Seoul appellate court last week rejected an injunction filed by the medical community to block the government’s plan to increase the medical school admission quota, paving the way for authorities to proceed with the reform.

It remains uncertain whether some 12,000 trainee doctors, who have been off the job since late February in protest of the reform, will return to hospitals as they have called for the government to scrap the reform.

“Under the relevant law, junior doctors must return to their worksites within three months of departure to qualify for next year’s fellowship exam,” Cho said.

Officials have warned that junior doctors may face a one-year delay in getting medical fellowships because they will not be eligible for next year’s test to become fellow doctors unless they are trained at hospitals for more than three months.

“The government is open to adjusting the training period for junior doctors if they provide explanations for their leave, including unavoidable reasons such as sick leave,” Cho added.

In a separate briefing, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo also urged junior doctors to return to hospitals immediately, noting that the medical community’s interpretation of the law, which suggests the deadline can be extended to August, is not reasonable.

“While the law suggests that the additional training period can be reduced by a month due to unavoidable situations, such as vacation or leave of absence, departing from workplaces due to the collective action cannot be considered as such circumstances,” Park said.

“Following the court’s ruling, the government plans to promptly finalize the admission plan for next year’s students to avoid further confusion in the college admission process,” the second vice minister added.

Cho reiterated that the government is open to holding dialogue in any form with the medical community.

“Doctors should engage in dialogue without demanding unrealistic conditions that do not meet the public’s expectations, such as starting from scratch or fully scrapping the reform plan,” Cho said.

The medical community, meanwhile, earlier vowed to appeal the latest court decision to the Supreme Court.