Stethoscopes and Strikes

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Senior doctors across major hospitals in South Korea resigned en masse this week, in solidarity with striking medical interns and residents, who have been protesting for more than a month against a government proposal to boost medical school admissions, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On Monday, an unspecified number of senior doctors handed in their resignations, a day after representatives of medical professors and doctors at some 40 university hospitals met with governing party leader Han Dong-hoon to resolve the ongoing strike.

South Korea has been gripped by a doctors’ strike for five weeks, which has seen hospitals reduce their services, including canceling surgeries and other treatments. The walkout began over the government’s plan to increase medical school admissions by two-thirds.

Doctors oppose the plan, contending that it would strain resources and compromise medical services. But government officials countered that South Korea needs more doctors because of its increasing aging population and a poor doctor-to-population ratio – one of the lowest in the developed world.

In response to the strikes, the government has threatened to suspend the licenses of the striking doctors: Approximately 12,000 interns and residents are facing suspensions for their refusal to halt the strike.

While the senior doctors’ resignations will not immediately impact hospital operations, the ongoing strike has pressured President Yoon Suk Yeol to engage with medical professionals and suggest the softening of punitive steps against the striking junior doctors.

The government’s willingness to lessen punishment and engage in dialogue is seen as a response to the ruling party’s concern over next month’s parliamentary elections.

Opinion polls indicate most South Koreans back the government’s recruitment drive.

However, representatives from university hospitals – where the junior doctors train – have supported the strike, asserting the government’s proposal would jeopardize the medical system.

They welcomed the government’s softening stance but noted that the issue would not be resolved unless the entire plan is withdrawn.

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