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Trainee doctors to return to work, but students defiant

Trainee doctors on a protest at a hospital in Seoul on Sept. 3. (Yonhap)
Trainee doctors on a protest at a hospital in Seoul on Sept. 3. (Yonhap)

The Korean Intern and Resident Association announced Monday that it was ratcheting down collective action, and that its members would return work starting 7 a.m. Tuesday.

The group, however, will continue its protests, with members staging one-person demonstrations. The group also warned that it would take stronger action if the government did not offer a response to help medical students who had refused to take the state doctors licensing examination within two weeks.

Along with the Korean Medical Association, which represents fully qualified practitioners, junior doctors have been on strike in protest against the government’s medical workforce reform plans. Medical students have also joined in by refusing to attend a licensing exam.

Last week, medical students, junior doctors and practitioners forged a pact to have the KMA represent them in talks with the government and the KMA reached a deal with the ruling Democratic Party of Korea. While the government welcomed the settlement, junior doctors continued their resistance, taking issue with the KMA’s agreement with the authorities. On Sunday, medical students decided to continue their collective boycott of the licensing exam, proclaiming their disapproval of the compromise reached between KMA and the government.

The agreement states that the government will reconsider all the contested policies, which include establishing a state-run medical school specializing in public health, increasing the student quotas of existing medical schools and offering national health insurance coverage for traditional Korean medicine.

With trainee doctors set to return to work, the medical services at general hospitals are expected to return to normal, after two-week disruption.

However, further clashes between the government and doctors’ groups appear likely, with the KMA joining the trainee doctors in calling for measures for medical students.

In a statement, the KMA said that measures must be taken for medical students who boycotted the state exam, and that the KMA would “employ every means” to ensure that the students can take the test and hinted at breaking the agreement with the government.

“It must be remembered that protection and aid for medical students and members (of doctors’ groups) is a prerequisite of agreement with the government and the ruling party,” the KMA said in the statement.

“Without such measures, the agreement will not have any meaning.”

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare on Monday, the doctors licensing examination will be held as scheduled despite only 14 percent of medical students having applied.

“(The ministry) has no plans to extend the application period again, or to receive additional applications,” Health Ministry spokesperson Sohn Young-rae said.

He said that taking additional applications after the deadline would go against principles, and would be unfair in consideration of other licenses granted through state examinations.

This year’s examination was pushed back from Sept. 1 to Sept. 8, and the application period was extended to midnight Sunday.

In the extended application period, 446 of 3,172 medical students eligible to take the test this year applied for Tuesday’s exam.


By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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