A walkout by thousands of Korean medical professionals last week is slated to extend into a second week of protests this Friday if demands linked to the national government’s plans for recruiting are not met beforehand.
A statement released earlier today said that around 95% of some 7,000 resident doctors would join the strike if the government goes ahead with plans to recruit up to 4,000 more doctors over the next 12 years, with 75% to be deployed to rural areas of the peninsula for at least the first decade of their employment.

According to South Korea’s Ministry of Health and Welfare, the country needs 60,000 more doctors than it already has, with Kim Heon-joo, director general for health care policy at the ministry saying “The ministry, as well as the rest of the government, is convinced that expanding the medical workforce is inevitable.”
At present South Korea has 2.3 doctors per 1,000 citizens according to Kim, a number well below the OECD average of 3.4 he says.

The recruitment drive, however, is not the solution according to existing doctors and those in training to join the profession in Korea.

One medical student speaking to local media at a Seoul university said, “This (recruitment drive) will only allow hospitals to use doctors at cheaper costs without improving wages or unfair labor practices.”

“Hospitals and health centers will get to hire the newly minted doctors without fixing the problems that keep young students from pursuing rural practice in the first place,” added an internal medicine doctor, also in Seoul.Dr. Kim Eun-yong, a GP in the south-central Korean city of Daegu, meanwhile referred to the struggle faced by smaller practices competing with large scale hospitals saying:
“Most clinics in Daegu have not recovered from the earlier outbreak (of coronavirus), and the relief checks from the government are barely enough to cover for the months of damages,” he said, adding that the government’s announcement “felt like a blow that couldn’t have come at a tougher time.”

“Supporting the health workers who had a role in the pandemic with proper pay seems to be a more pressing agenda than expanding medical schools,” Kim said.

Korea’s Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo went on record last week ahead of the first strike as saying those taking part in the walkouts were “jeopardizing public health and safety” continuing “Under no circumstances can we let health and safety of our people to come under threat. The government will not allow it.”

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