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Seoul pushes forward with medical school expansion amidst doctors’ strike

South Korea allocates 2,000 new medical school slots despite doctors’ strike. The government stands firm on reforming medical education to tackle low doctor-to-population ratio.



SEOUL: South Korea on Wednesday (20 March) announced the allocation of 2,000 new medical school admissions slots annually across the nation, amid ongoing protests and strikes from medical professionals.

Despite the month-long strike by doctors in opposition, the government has remained resolute in its commitment to reforming medical education and expanding the physician workforce.

Since 20 February, thousands of trainee doctors have ceased work, leading to the cancellation of crucial treatments and surgeries in hospitals nationwide.

However, the government has stood firm, emphasizing the necessity of addressing the country’s low doctor-to-population ratio and the healthcare demands of an ageing populace.

The bulk of the 2,000 new admissions slots, intended to bolster capacity in underserved rural areas, have been allocated to universities located outside the Seoul capital region.

The South Korean government reportedly intended to decentralize medical resources and establish competitive regional medical systems.

Education Minister Lee Ju-ho highlighted the significance of the reforms, stating that they represent a crucial step toward aligning South Korea’s medical system with global standards.

However, the announcement has drawn criticism from the Korean Medical Association (KMA), which argues that the move will exacerbate existing tensions and lead to dire consequences.

Amidst fears that the reform will compromise the quality of medical service and education, the government has taken a firm stance against the striking doctors.

Notably, it has suspended the licenses of two senior doctors involved in the work stoppage, marking the first punitive action against striking medical professionals.

Subsequently, it was stated that the conclusive measures to suspend the licenses of junior doctors participating in prolonged strikes will be executed next week should they persist in their ongoing walkouts.

South Korean law prohibits doctors from striking, and the government has taken legal action against those involved in the protest, including officials from the KMA.

Despite opposition from medical professionals, the government remains steadfast in its determination to implement the reforms and address systemic challenges within the healthcare sector.

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