May 25, 2024

(Bloomberg) — South Korea will complete sending out this week its first license suspension notices to thousands of doctors who have walked off their jobs in protest at a government plan to increase medical school enrollment.

Most Read from Bloomberg

The doctors who receive notices will have to submit their views to the government by March 25, and a failure to do so could ultimately lead to the suspension of their medical licenses for several months, Yonhap News agency reported at the weekend, citing government and medical industry sources, and other local media.

About 90% of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors, who are similar to medical residents and play key roles in emergency care, have failed to report to work by the end of February deadline set by the government, Yonhap said. The walkout will soon enter its fourth week, with no signs of a quick ending.

President Yoon Suk Yeol has stood by his plan to increase enrollment by 2,000 seats a year at medical schools from the current 3,058. The government said the change is needed to ease a doctor shortage that is among the most acute in the developed world, and is essential for supporting the medical system in the rapidly aging country.

Yoon’s government has threatened to revoke the licenses of doctors for leading a labor action it says violates medical laws. The notices are part of the procedure for suspending the licenses of thousands of trainee doctors for three months for defying the return-to-work order, a move that could set them back on their career paths and affect employment prospects.

The labor action could widen this week with academics from the Medical Professors Association of Korea group threatening to resign over the government plan, Yonhap said.

The doctors contend the proposal to increase enrollments won’t fix fundamental problems such as a concentration of doctors in urban areas and a lack of specialists in fields seen as risky and lower paying. They want to see changes to the malpractice system that give more protection to physicians.

Polling indicates the public is siding with the government, seeing the reform as a way to cut waiting times for health care. South Korean doctors rank among the best paid among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in comparison to average wages, which has led to criticism the labor action may be more about protecting the earning power of physicians rather than improving the health-care system.

Yoon’s approval rating has climbed during the walkout to its highest since July last year. This could help his conservative People Power Party in April elections as it tries to take control of parliament from the progressive Democratic Party.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *