Korean medical students oppose plans to expand training spaces

Nationwide student boycott delayed exams crucial in keeping young doctors in the pipeline

September 4, 2020
Source: iStock
Seoul National University Hospital

Medical students have been boycotting exams and staging protests over proposed changes to medical education in South Korea.

The government has delayed unpopular plans to establish a state-run medical school and to increase medical school admission quotas by 4,000 spots over the next decade in response to the walkout.

The ruling Democratic Party also said it would hold a public consultation before making decisions and improve training and working conditions for interns, residents and doctors, the Korea Biomedical Review reported.

The Korean Medical Association had also been due to take strike action in support of the students, but said on 4 September that it had agreed with the government that combating Covid-19 should be the priority.

There is a chance that some trainee doctors would continue their walkout, the state-run Yonhap news agency reported. 

Trainee doctors, concerned about a potential flood of new medical students into an already competitive field, had staged a nationwide boycott of licensing exams that were supposed to begin on 1 September. The tests, which have now been delayed until at least 8-25 September, are crucial in keeping a steady flow of new doctors moving into the healthcare system.  

Masked young doctors in scrubs have been seen picketing outside hospitals affiliated with top schools such as Seoul National University. Professors at hospitals affiliated with the Catholic University of Korea, Chung-Ang University and others also lent support, Yonhap reported. 

The boycott had widespread backing, with more than 93 per cent of polled final-year medical students cancelling their exam applications, according to the Korean Medical Student Association.

Last week, the conflict escalated when the authorities filed police complaints against striking trainees and fellow doctors and issued executive orders for them to return to their jobs.

This drew a reaction from the wider medical community. In a poll of more than 7,000 medical professors, 77 per cent said they would take group action if interns, residents and fellow doctors were charged, while 95 per cent of clinical professors said they would refuse to supervise exams.

joyce.lau@timeshighereducation.com 

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