Junior doctors on walkout ‘gradually’ returning to hospitals: health ministry

May 29, 2024

South Korea’s health ministry said Wednesday the number of junior doctors working at hospitals has been gradually rising, although the increase is small, as the walkout protesting the government’s plan to raise the number of medical school freshmen entered its 100th day.

About 12,000 trainee doctors have remained off the job since Feb. 20 in protest of the plan to raise the medical school admissions quota by 2,000, causing disruptions at general hospitals and emergency rooms.

“Although still a few, the number of junior doctors returning to worksites has been gradually increasing,” Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo said during a briefing.

Park noted that as of Tuesday, the number of junior doctors working at 100 training hospitals had come to 699, rising from 577 tallied a month earlier.

“Nothing can be achieved through collective action. The government plans to make efforts to minimize penalties on junior doctors who have returned,” Park said, noting the government will clearly distinguish between those who returned and those who did not.

The ministry has been warning of measures, including suspension of licenses, for defiant trainee doctors.

Last week, the Korean Council for University Education, an association of university presidents, approved an increase in next year’s medical school admission quota despite strong protests from trainee doctors, effectively completing the process.

The Korea Medical Association, the country’s largest doctors’ organization, plans to hold nationwide rallies Thursday, calling for the government to scrap the reform plan.

A Seoul appellate court rejected an injunction filed by doctors to suspend the medical reform last week, paving the way for authorities to proceed with the reform. Local doctors claim the government should hold the reform until the top court delivers the final verdict.