April 24, 2024

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South Korea Enforces Military Service for Hospital Doctors Amid Resignation Wave

South Korea Enforces Military Service for Hospital Doctors Amid Resignation Wave

South Korea Enforces Military Service for Hospital Doctors Amid Resignation Wave

The Ministry of Defense of South Korea: Hospital Doctors Who Have Not Completed Military Service Must Enlist Immediately Upon Resignation Being Accepted

The “resignation wave” among medical personnel in South Korea protesting the expansion of medical student enrollment continues to spread, exacerbating the crisis in the medical system. According to local media such as the Korea Central Daily and YTN TV, on Feb 26, the Ministry of Defense of South Korea announced at a regular press conference that hospital doctors who have not completed military service, upon their resignation being accepted, will directly enlist as medical officers or public health doctors on the nearest enlistment date, which is March next year.

According to Korean media explanations, under the regulations of the Korean Military Service Act Enforcement Decree, as a condition for postponing military service, these hospital doctors must enlist as military doctors for 38 months after completing their internship. During the internship period, hospital doctors are not allowed to withdraw from this mechanism or change their specialties or internship units at will, otherwise they will be forcibly enlisted ahead of schedule.


South Korea Enforces Military Service for Hospital Doctors Amid Resignation Wave

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In general, there are two ways for doctors in South Korea who graduate from medical school and obtain a medical license to fulfill their military service obligations: one is to directly enlist as public health doctors without participating in internship courses after obtaining a medical license; the other is to apply for a medical officer candidate while completing the internship course, and then serve as a military doctor or public health doctor after completing the course, which is a case of “postponing military service.”

According to the regulations of the Korean Military Service Act Enforcement Decree, those who voluntarily become medical officer candidates must enlist on the nearest enlistment date if they change their internship unit or specialty without permission from the competent authority or resign from the internship unit, and serve for 38 months.

The report mentioned that currently, these hospital doctors who have submitted resignation letters and have not yet completed military service belong to the second category of “medical officer candidates.” In other words, if a hospital doctor resigns from their internship due to opposition to the expansion of medical school, regardless of whether they have completed the residency program, they must enlist.

After the resignation letter is accepted, the director of the hospital where the hospital doctor works must report to the local military service department within 14 days, and then start the enlistment procedures. The South Korean Ministry of Defense categorizes medical officer candidates by military branch every February, and these service members will enlist in March.

However, the report mentioned that because the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare had previously issued orders prohibiting the acceptance of collective resignation letters from medical staff, the Ministry of Defense would not directly decide whether to require these hospital doctors who submitted resignation letters to enlist immediately. A related person from the Ministry of Defense said on the 25th that if the resignation letters of these doctors have not been accepted, it is considered “unexcused absence” rather than “termination of internship,” so they cannot be considered for enlistment yet.

In addition, one of the conditions for medical officer candidates is that they “must complete the internship course before the age of 33.” If they fail to complete the residency program within the specified time, they must enlist as active-duty military doctors or public health doctors.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense of South Korea has also issued a formal letter to local offices stating that hospital doctors who have not completed military service and want to go abroad need a recommendation letter from their responsible agency. After submitting the resignation letter, as long as it has not been accepted, this requirement still applies to these doctors. The department emphasized that South Korean males who have not completed military service must obtain approval from the Ministry of Defense before traveling abroad. In any case, interns cannot apply for a permit to travel abroad without submitting a recommendation letter, otherwise they will be reported to the Ministry of Defense.

In response, the Emergency Response Committee of the Korean Medical Association protested, stating, “The official document issued by the Ministry of Defense is no different from a travel ban order issued only for serious criminals. This is the government treating doctors and serious offenders equally.”

So far, the wave of resignations among interns and residents in South Korea against the government’s expansion of medical student enrollment has lasted for a week, with signs of expansion. Some medical graduates have even given up their employment contracts.

On the 26th, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare stated that the results of inspections conducted in writing on 100 internship hospitals nationwide showed that as of 7:00 pm on the 23rd, a total of 10,034 interns and residents in these hospitals had submitted resignation reports, accounting for 80.5% of the total interns and residents in the hundred hospitals. There were 9,006 absent doctors, accounting for 72.3%.

The total number of interns and residents in South Korea is more than 13,000, with 95% of them working in the aforementioned hundred hospitals. These hospitals have not yet accepted these resignation reports. As of 6:00 pm on the 23rd, the Medical Strike Victims Reporting Center received 38 new reports, including 31 cases of postponed surgeries, 3 cases of refusal to admit patients, 2 cases of canceled medical appointments, and 2 cases of postponed hospitalizations.

The South Korean government called on doctors participating in the collective resignation action to return to work as soon as possible on the 26th, promising not to hold them accountable for their actions if they return to work before February 29th. On the 27th, the South Korean government reiterated that it would complete inspections of interns and residents in 50 large comprehensive hospitals’ attendance statuses this week and would take judicial measures such as revoking medical licenses against interns and residents who do not return to work starting from March.

On the same day (27th), South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol made it clear that he would not negotiate on the issue of medical reform, and there would be no compromise on the relevant reforms.

“No country in the world’s doctors would take such extreme actions because of the expansion of medical school enrollment.” Earlier on the 25th, a spokesperson for the South Korean Presidential Office angrily criticized this and emphasized that the plan to increase medical school enrollment by 2,000 students would continue.

Earlier this month, the South Korean government announced that to address the shortage of doctors, the enrollment scale for medical schools in the 2025 academic year would be increased from the current 3,058 to 5,058, an increase of about 65%. However, this expansion plan has been strongly opposed by South Korean medical groups and medical school students, who say it will lead to over-medicalization and financial strain on the medical insurance system. Some critics point out that medical personnel are actually concerned that the expansion plan will reduce their income.

South Korea Enforces Military Service for Hospital Doctors Amid Resignation Wave

(source:internet, reference only)

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