South Korea: Why did 6,400 trainee doctors resign?

Tensions brew as the government plans to add 2,000 seats to the national medical quota in 2025

Representative image of medical professionals walking through a hospital lobby (photo: IANS)
Representative image of medical professionals walking through a hospital lobby (photo: IANS)


More than 6,400 trainee doctors submitted their resignations in protest against the South Korean government's plan to boost the number of medical students, officials said on Tuesday, 20 February. The inadequate numbers are blamed for delays in surgeries and medical treatment in the country.

Talking to reporters, second vice health minister Park Min said that the ministry has ordered 831 of the trainee doctors to return to work, Yonhap news agency reported.

Tensions have been simmering in the medical fraternity over the government's plan to add 2,000 seats to the country's medical school quota in 2025.

Till Monday, 19 February, a total of 6,415 trainee doctors at 100 hospitals had submitted their resignations, with about 1,600 of them walking off the job, Park said.

Park said the government would extend operating hours at 97 public hospitals and the emergency rooms of 12 military hospitals would be opened up to the public to cope with the potential disruption of medical services due to the protest.

The admission quota needs to be enhanced to address a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as high-risk surgeries, paediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine, said health authorities.

As per the official figures, the ratio of doctors in South Korea to the overall population size is among the lowest in the developed world.

However, the doctors claim that the government has not conducted comprehensive consultations on the matter and that the move would compromise the quality of medical education and services.

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