Yoon sticks to guns on med school quota hike, admonishes protesting doctors

Posted on : 2024-04-02 17:12 KST Modified on : 2024-04-02 17:12 KST
Representatives of the medical community responded to the president’s address to the nation with disinterest and disapproval

 

President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers an address to the nation regarding health care reforms on April 1, 2024, from the presidential office in Seoul. (courtesy of the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol delivers an address to the nation regarding health care reforms on April 1, 2024, from the presidential office in Seoul. (courtesy of the presidential office)

In his address to the nation on Monday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called an annual increase of 2,000 medical school students the “bare minimum figure based on our thorough calculations,” adding, “If the state bows to the demands of a special interest group, then it cannot be called a functioning state.”

The president called on the medical community to come to the negotiation table with a “unified proposal.” The medical community responded by refusing to even engage with or comment on the president’s address.

On Monday, Yoon addressed the Korean public from the presidential office in a live broadcast speech. In his 51 minutes of remarks, Yoon offered his “sincere apologies” for “having failed to swiftly deliver a solution” to the current health care crisis. Yoon emphasized that “the government’s initiatives for health care reform are for the people.”

“Any Korean citizen with common sense will agree with the assessment that our country currently lacks a sufficient number of doctors,” the president said.

“Increasing the annual medical school quota by 2,000 students is the state fulfilling its constitutional duty to protect the lives and safety of its citizens. I’d like to reiterate that 2,000 is the bare minimum required to adequately respond to the needs of our rapidly aging society.”

“To achieve the task of health care reform, increasing the number of doctors nationwide is the first step,” Yoon said. 

“We cannot repeat the same mistake of the past 27 years,” he said, referring to the failure to enact an increase in medical school admissions by past administrations.

Yoon vehemently criticized the interns, residents, and medical school faculty who have resigned in protest, as well as the physicians groups that have rallied the opposition to the Yoon administration’s reforms. 

“The illegal collective actions being taken by a portion of doctors is a grave threat to our society,” Yoon declared.

“The Korean Medical Association,” he continued, “is calling for the resignations of our health minister and vice health minister, even speaking of removing my administration. This attitude is not a threat to me, the president, but a threat against the people of Korea.”

“I am aware that I cannot compromise with yet another vested interest cartel that opposes the common good,” Yoon said.

Yoon did not reveal how his administration will deal with the ongoing health care vacuum that has resulted from the conflict between his administration and the medical community, which has extended into the long term.

“If the medical community offers more reasonable and appropriate proposals, we are open to talks,” Yoon declared, effectively calling for dialogue. 

“Government policies are always open,” Yoon said, adding he is open to forming a presidential committee or separate consultative body on health care reforms.

“If the medical community continues to claim that increasing the annual medical school admissions quota by 2,000 is excessive, it needs to provide a unified proposal based on concrete, scientific evidence, not on a vague collective action,” the president insisted.

During an interview with KBS on the same day, Yoon claimed that “if the doctors offer a reasonable proposal that includes an increase in annual medical school admissions that is not fixed on the number 2,000, then we are open to discussing ways to improve our policies.”

“We are open to discussing the matter of increasing the medical school quota in a flexible and forward-looking manner.”

During a campaign rally in Busan, People Power Party interim leader Han Dong-hoon reiterated Yoon’s position.

“The government is open to discussions that depart from the 2,000 figure,” he said.

The medical community, however, was not impressed with Yoon’s speech.

Lim Hyun-taek, a doctor who has been elected to serve as the next chair of the Korean Medical Association, declared, “Our official stance is: ‘No comment,’” adding, “I don’t even wish to state the reason. That’s how little we want to discuss the matter.”

“Once again, we have confirmation that the current administration does not heed to the public’s needs and demands,” said Democratic Party lawmaker Shin Hyun-young

By Jang Na-rye, staff reporter; Lim Jae-woo, staff reporter

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

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