Too Much of a Good Thing

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More than 1,600 trainee doctors in South Korea staged a walkout Tuesday to protest a recent government plan to admit more students to medical schools, a move that has resulted in cancelations of treatments and surgeries in many major hospitals across the country, Reuters reported.

The South Korean government recently announced a proposal to increase medical school admissions by 2,000 from the 2025 academic year, against a current annual figure of around 3,000. Officials added that they plan to add 10,000 more by 2035.

President Yoon Suk Yeol said the move will help improve access to basic healthcare in remote areas and develop better medical technologies.

But many medical practitioners rejected the proposal, countering that there are already enough doctors in the country. They added a boost in doctors’ numbers could lead to unnecessary medical procedures and undermine the country’s national health insurance plan.

Following the government’s announcement, nearly half of the 13,000 doctors and interns at large hospitals handed in resignations.

The walkouts took place despite government orders and pleas for the doctors to stay at work, citing the wellbeing of patients and citizens.

A recent Gallup Korea poll revealed that approximately 76 percent of South Koreans support increasing the number of medical students. This comes in response to concerns over a severe shortage of doctors, particularly in pediatrics, emergency units, and clinics outside the greater Seoul area.

South Korea, with a population of 52 million, had only 2.6 doctors per 1,000 people in 2022, far below the average of 3.7 for countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

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