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South Korea Faces Doctor Shortage Amid Strike Over Medical School Expansion Plans

TL;DR intro

  • Doctor Shortage:South Korea has a severe doctor shortage, prompting the government to propose a significant increase in medical school admissions.
  • Doctors' Strike:Doctors, represented by the KMA, are on a months-long strike protesting the plan, fearing it will lower quality of care and reduce their income.
  • Escalating Situation:The strike has escalated, with professors joining and threats of a nationwide walkout.

South Korea has one of the lowest doctor-to-population ratios among developed nations. To address this shortage, the government aims to increase the number of doctors by up to 10,000 by 2035. However, this plan has sparked fierce opposition from the Korean Medical Association (KMA), the country's largest doctors' union.

The KMA argues that a rapid influx of medical students will overwhelm educational institutions and ultimately lead to a decline in the quality of medical care. Doctors also express concerns about potential decreases in their future earnings due to an increased supply of medical professionals.

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The Strike's Impact and Potential Future Actions

The strike, primarily involving trainee doctors, began in February 2024. Recent weeks have seen a significant escalation:

  • Hundreds of medical professors at Seoul National University hospitals joined an indefinite walkout.
  • Around 4% of private clinics participated in a one-day strike.
  • The KMA threatens an indefinite national strike if their demands aren't met.

The government has responded by issuing return-to-work orders and threatening legal action against doctors who defy them. Additionally, they may pursue damage suits against striking professors and penalize hospitals that fail to adequately respond to the walkouts.

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Balancing Doctor Supply and Quality Care

Finding a solution that addresses the doctor shortage while ensuring high-quality medical care is crucial for South Korea. Both sides need to find common ground to prevent further disruptions and ensure patient well-being.

This situation highlights the complex challenges in managing healthcare resources. It also raises questions about the future of healthcare careers in South Korea. With an increased number of medical professionals potentially entering the workforce, competition for positions may intensify. However, the growing elderly population could also create a demand for more medical professionals in various specialties.

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