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지나쌤

Yoon calls for dialogue, trust from medical community

3-month license suspension notices delivered to two incumbent KMA executives

By Park Jun-hee

Published : March 18, 2024 - 20:46

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President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) shakes hands with a doctor at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Monday (Presidential Office) President Yoon Suk Yeol (second from left) shakes hands with a doctor at Asan Medical Center in Seoul, Monday (Presidential Office)

President Yoon Suk Yeol on Monday urged the medical community to engage in dialogue and to trust the government, rather than refusing to bend on plans to increase the annual medical school enrollment quota.

The president made the remarks during his visit to the pediatric ward of the Asan Medical Center earlier in the day. There, he met with hospital officials, including Park Seung-il, the head of the hospital and Lee Je-hwan, the vice director of medical services, to encourage medical workers who have remained in their positions and to listen to the voices of those in the medical field.

The visit is the president's first after announcing the planned quota hike and a set of medical reform policies in early February.

“(Please) do not keep saying that you can’t engage in dialogue (with the government) unless we adjust the increase in the enrollment quota. Please look to the future and persuade your juniors,” Yoon was quoted as saying by his spokesperson Kim Soo-kyung. Kim also noted that Yoon underscored the importance of meeting the demands of medical personnel in a rapidly aging society.

“Doctors and nurses who know about the field the best need to give their opinions on the improvements that should be made and on what (more is needed to) complete the medical reform,” Yoon said. “Please come to the dialogue and believe in the government.”

Yoon also stressed that the country can’t go through such strife every time it decides to lift the enrollment quota. The president said that the hike would not lower the quality of medical care, shrugging off the medical community’s concerns over that particular issue.

Despite the president's visit, two incumbent executives of the Korean Medical Associations told local media that they were given a three-month license suspension notice, marking the first such instance a month from the start of the junior doctors’ walkout.

Park Myung-ha (left), who heads organizational affairs at the Korea Medical Association (KMA), and Kim Taek-woo, the head of the KMA's emergency committee, speak to reporters before being questioned by the police in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Park Myung-ha (left), who heads organizational affairs at the Korea Medical Association (KMA), and Kim Taek-woo, the head of the KMA's emergency committee, speak to reporters before being questioned by the police in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The two executives in question are Kim Taek-woo, who heads the emergency committee of the KMA, and Park Myung-ha, the president of the Seoul Medical Association and the chairperson of the emergency body’s strengthening committee. Their licenses will be suspended for three months starting April 15.

Currently, Kim and Park are also being probed by police, along with three other former and incumbent KMA officials, on charges of aiding and abetting trainee doctors’ collective resignations.

Park said in an interview with the Yonhap News Agency on Monday that he would file an administrative lawsuit against the government and that he plans to discuss the issue further with others.

Meanwhile, Bang Jae-seung, head of the emergency committee of medical school professors, apologized Monday in an interview with CBS “for causing inconvenience in medical care” as medical professors have decided to tender their resignations starting March 25.

“To those who have come (to hospitals either to receive medical care or those who accompanied their sick family members), I sincerely apologize for the inconvenience caused to your treatment and for making you anxious,” Bang said.

“Doctors don’t exist without the people. ... But submitting (our) resignations is a last resort for professors to prevent a health care crisis from happening,” he added.

On a separate note, private practitioners nationwide are mulling whether to reduce night services and weekend openings in protest against the government’s medical reform policies.

Kim Dong-seok, an obstetrician who heads the Korean Medical Practitioners Association, a group representing private physicians, said during a spring medical academic conference Sunday afternoon that private medical practices are considering taking action to support junior doctors and medical professors’ walkout by shortening their work hours.

“Private practitioners are thinking about working 40 hours a week for five days without providing additional medical services on Saturdays or late at night,” Kim said.

If self-employed doctors decide to cut down their working hours, it will likely disrupt the continuity of patient care, leading to more overcrowding and longer wait times in hospitals.

Working hours for self-employed doctors are not regulated by the Health Ministry, which means the doctors have control over how many hours and what hours they work, unlike doctors employed at general hospitals.

Kim, however, said that such decisions have yet to be made at the association level, adding that the association is not reviewing collective closure at this point.