Pupils before patients: Korean med school faculty mull joining trainee doctors’ collective action

Posted on : 2024-02-26 17:11 KST Modified on : 2024-02-26 17:11 KST
Some SNU medical school faculty members are reportedly discussing a suspension of their combined duties, where they would only continue lecturing while suspending their hospital activities
A staff member at a public hospital in Seoul walks down a corridor on Feb. 22, 2024, as mass tendering of resignations by the country’s interns and residents enter their third day. (Yonhap)
A staff member at a public hospital in Seoul walks down a corridor on Feb. 22, 2024, as mass tendering of resignations by the country’s interns and residents enter their third day. (Yonhap)

With South Korea raising its healthcare crisis level to its highest rating of “severe” in response to the mass resignation of interns and residents protesting a rise in the medical college admission cap, representatives of physician groups held an emergency meeting where they asserted that the “entire medical community will use all lawful means and methods available to resist until the end if the administration unilaterally implements its policy.”

In an expanded meeting of nationwide physician representatives Sunday at the Korean Medical Association (KMA) building in Seoul’s Yongsan District, the association’s emergency leadership committee discussed possible measures to block the increase in the medical college admission ceiling.

“The aim of us 140,000 physicians” — referring to the ranks of the KMA — “is to see the administrations’ mistaken policy reexamined from square one,” said KMA emergency committee chairperson Kim Taek-woo on Sunday.

The healthcare vacuum could expand to a level that really hits home with the South Korean public if private practitioners — who make up a large portion of the KMA membership — join in the shutdown.
 

Those in attendance at an expanded meeting of representatives of physicians across Korea held at the headquarters of the Korean Medical Association on Feb. 25, 2024, chant slogans and hold signs opposing the increase in medical school admissions. (Kim Jung-hyo/The Hankyoreh)
Those in attendance at an expanded meeting of representatives of physicians across Korea held at the headquarters of the Korean Medical Association on Feb. 25, 2024, chant slogans and hold signs opposing the increase in medical school admissions. (Kim Jung-hyo/The Hankyoreh)


“Obliged to join in the interns’ and residents’ action”

Professors at some university hospitals have also hinted at potentially joining the collective action. In a position statement issued on Friday, the emergency committee of the Seoul National University medical school faculty association said that its members would be “obliged to join in the [interns’ and residents’] action if there are no acceptable measures from the administration.”

Some SNU medical school faculty members are reportedly discussing a suspension of their combined duties, where they would only continue lecturing while suspending their hospital activities.

“The proposal that doctors only teach rather than treat is limited to a small faction of hard-liners,” said Chung Jin-haeng, who heads up the SNU medical school faculty’s emergency leadership committee. 

“If they truly decide to go through with it, then there’s only so much I can do as the head of the committee. The situation will have deteriorated beyond my control by that point.” 

On Saturday, the faculty senate of the Yonsei University College of Medicine issued a statement declaring, “If our pupils are unduly punished, as their teachers and mentors, we will not idly stand by.” 

Conversely, the Medical Professors Association of Korea issued a statement on the same day, declaring, “To fill the unavoidable gaps in medical services, we are doing our best to treat patients regardless, and will continue to do so.” 

“Both the government and doctors need to work to reach a solution as quickly as possible,” the statement continued. 

Moreover, a large number of residents in the third and fourth year and fellows could leave their positions as soon as their contracts end. Third and fourth-year residents typically conclude their contracts at the end of their training period. Residents are expected to leave their positions at the end of February. Fellows typically renew their contracts before they expire, but many are expected to not renew their contracts in protest of the government’s policy.

By Kim Yoon-ju, staff reporter; Lim Jae-hee, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

 

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