Korea begins process to suspend medical licenses of over 7,000 protesting trainee doctors

Posted on : 2024-03-05 16:44 KST Modified on : 2024-03-05 16:56 KST
At the same time, 40 medical schools across the nation applied for more than 2,000 additional admission slots to be opened, in line with the government’s plan to expand medical school enrollment
A doctor walks down a hallway alone in a major Seoul hospital on March 4, 2024, amid a mass walkout by interns and residents. (Yonhap)
A doctor walks down a hallway alone in a major Seoul hospital on March 4, 2024, amid a mass walkout by interns and residents. (Yonhap)

The South Korean government has begun the process of taking administrative measures, including medical license suspensions, against over 7,000 medical interns and residents who have left their posts in protest of government policies. Some hospital fellows and medical school faculty have joined the collective hospital walkout in protest of the government’s measures. 

During a press briefing at the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters on Monday, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo announced that the administration has “taken a look at the situation on the ground and will respond accordingly to any violations according to principles and the law.” 

“We have begun procedures to suspend the licenses of over 7,000 individuals,” Park added. 

Among the 8,945 medical residents and interns who have left their posts at the nation’s hospitals, the state has received confirmation from the employers of 7,854 that they have defied orders for them to return to work. The Ministry of Health and Welfare began dispatching investigators to various hospitals on Monday to confirm which doctors have refused to return to work. The ministry immediately initiated administrative procedures to discipline the doctors in question. 

According to the current language in the Medical Service Act, any doctor who refuses to follow orders to return to work can have their medical license suspended for up to a year. The government has threatened doctors with suspensions of “at least three months.” If a resident or intern whose medical license is suspended cannot complete the required training period, it could take at least a year longer for them to become a licensed medical specialist. 

Despite the government’s response measures, the residents and interns don’t seem to be budging. In fact, some fellows and medical school professors are refusing to renew their employment contracts to join the collective resignation movement. 

The Health Ministry and various hospitals have reported that as of Friday, only 30% of fellows in hospitals nationwide have opted to renew their contracts. Fellows normally renew their yearly contracts at the end of February, with around 70% to 80% of fellows renewing every year. This year’s figure falls below half that. 

Professors at Kyungpook National University School of Medicine have issued a public statement saying, “The government just continues to threaten us,” vowing to join the collective resignation movement. This goes to show how the battle between the government and interns and residents has expanded to include fellows and professors.

As of the Monday deadline for medical schools to apply for an increase in their enrollment quotas for the coming academic year, a little over 2,000 more spots had been requested — not far off from last year’s figure. Park Sung-min, the chief of planning and coordination at the Ministry of Education, announced that the applications for increases in medical students this year are expected to be “similar to last year.” 

In November last year, medical schools hoped that the number would fall between 2,151 and 2,847. Schools including Yonsei University deliberated over the number of new students right up to the application deadline. Yet Kwon Tae-hwan, the dean of Kyungpook National University School of Medicine, has publicly criticized the university’s attempts to increase the number of medical school students, indicating further in-fighting between medical school staff and university administration. 

By Kim Yoon-ju, staff reporter

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