Trainee doctors seen as lukewarm as gov’t allows them to return to hospitals without legal burdens

June 5, 2024

Trainee doctors who left their worksites for months in protest of the government’s medical reform were seen as mostly lukewarm to plans by the government to allow them to seek other career paths or return to hospitals without legal burdens, according to some junior doctors Wednesday.

In an apparent move to break an impasse over the medical reform, Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong on Tuesday allowed hospitals to accept the resignations of trainee doctors.

The government has ordered trainee doctors, who have remained off the job since late February in protest of the government’s plan to boost the number of medical students, to return to hospitals, while banning hospitals from accepting their resignations.

By withdrawing the return-to-work order and allowing hospitals to accept their resignations, trainee doctors could find jobs at other medical clinics or return to their training hospitals.

Late last month, the government finalized the admission quota hike of some 1,500, marking the first such increase in 27 years. With the admissions hike fixed, the government has weighed taking concessional steps to soothe the trainee doctors.

Still, some trainee doctors said they will not return to hospitals because the hike of medical school admissions was confirmed.

“As the government continues to press ahead with the medical policy, many trainee doctors think that returning (to hospitals) doesn’t mean much,” said a trainee doctor who submitted a resignation.

Park Dan, who is leading the emergency committee at the Korea Intern Resident Association, said Tuesday that he will not go back to his hospital.

“Nothing has changed. I’m not going back to the emergency room,” Park said in a Facebook post.

As of May 30, only 8.4 percent of 10,509 resident doctors were working at 211 training hospitals, according to data by the health ministry.

Meanwhile, members of the Korea Medical Association, the largest association of community doctors, started voting on whether to launch a strike. The association plans to announce its future course of action on Sunday based on the poll.

According to sources in the medical sector, 51,471 out of 129,200 eligible voters, nearly 40 percent, had cast their votes as of 9 p.m. Wednesday. The voting began 5 p.m. Tuesday.

The association has pushed the deadline by 12 hours, from noon to midnight Friday.

Though the association didn’t disclose reasons for the decision, the move is likely intended to draw as many voters as possible.

It is believed that most of those who have voted have done so in favor of a strike.