July 17, 2024

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South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died!

South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died!

South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died!

The situation is getting serious! After nearly 10,000 doctors in South Korea went on strike, some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died! The South Korean government will revoke licenses and force conscription! The signal of a complete break is clear, how will it end?

The South Korean government will revoke licenses and force conscription!

To this day, the strike and resignation of doctors in South Korea has not subsided, but has instead escalated, bringing instability to the entire Northeast Asia, which is worrying.

According to news reports, as the doctor’s resignation strike in South Korea has been going on for two weeks, the medical front is on the brink of collapse, and the deadline for the resigned doctors to be ordered back to work has passed. The South Korean government started to take compulsory measures from March 4th.

The head of the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare announced at a press conference on the 4th that if related interns and resident doctors violate the government’s order to return to work, they will be punished with at least a 3-month revocation of their medical licenses. He warned that if the punishment of a 3-month revocation of the medical license is imposed, the time to obtain the qualification of a full-time doctor will be postponed. In addition, the government will also quickly deal with the key figures in the collective actions of doctors.

At the same time, the South Korean Ministry of Defense has reiterated several times and brought out the ultimate move: “If they do not return to work, the interns and resident doctors who have not completed military service will be forcibly conscripted for 38 months directly on the nearest enlistment day after their resignation is accepted. Intern doctors who strike during their internship will face even harsher treatment and will be directly conscripted ahead of schedule.”

It is well known that military service in South Korea is like a sword hanging over the heads of all South Korean men. Under the compulsory service standard, healthy male citizens aged 18-35 have an obligation to serve for about 2 years. Meanwhile, the entrenched “military camp culture” and “senior-junior culture” in the South Korean military have led to many abusive behaviors. Coupled with media exposure of many suicides and shooting incidents caused by bullying and sexual assault, this has made young South Koreans extremely fearful of military service, and many will go to great lengths to avoid it.

Therefore, the measure of forcing resigned doctors to serve in the military has been jokingly referred to as “using magic to defeat magic.”

As a complementary measure, many other restrictions have been added to doctors: doctors who have not completed military service must obtain approval from the Military Service Headquarters to go abroad, and interns must obtain a recommendation letter from their unit.

Although the coercive measures taken by the South Korean government are already sufficiently deterrent, the doctors have not wavered. South Korean doctors have stated that they “will never yield.”

From March 3rd to 6th local time, the Korean Medical Association held a national doctors’ mobilization congress in Seoul, calling it the “starting point of the great journey of resistance to government policies” and “preparing for the prolonged strike.”

On the 3rd, the Korean Medical Association strongly condemned the government’s pressure on doctors. That afternoon, 20,000 doctors held a large-scale rally near the South Korean National Assembly, continuing to protest against the government’s plan to expand the enrollment of medical students. In response, South Korean Prime Minister Han Duck-soo said that the government would not yield to the collective resignations that took citizens’ lives as hostages.

According to statistics from the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, as of now, more than 9,000 interns and resident doctors have resigned from 100 large comprehensive hospitals in South Korea, accounting for 72% of the total number of resident doctors in South Korea. However, after the government’s final ultimatum and various punishment measures were issued, fewer than 300 chose to return to work.

Both the South Korean government and the group of doctors are unwilling to compromise, and the confrontation has entered a white-hot stage. In this “hard-to-hard” contest, neither side has figured out how to end it. The East Asia Daily Express said that there will definitely be compromises in the end, but the point of compromise is difficult to grasp.

South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died!

South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died! (image source: screenshot from youTube)


Why are South Korean doctors going on strike?

The consequences of the strike are already apparent, with patients being refused by 7 hospitals and dying!

Why are South Korean doctors going on strike? This is our doubt. Some South Korean media have given the reason as “South Korean doctors oppose the expansion of medical school admissions.” Isn’t expanding admissions a good thing? Why oppose it? Perhaps there will be new insights after knowing the whole story of the incident.

Let’s briefly review the incident. In early February, the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Education announced that due to a severe shortage of doctors in South Korea, the enrollment rate of medical schools would be increased from the current 3,058 to 5,058 from next year. A stone stirred up a thousand waves, with the signal being the resignations of interns and resident doctors at the five major comprehensive hospitals in Seoul. Nationwide, interns and resident doctors collectively resigned, accounting for over 70%.

In the eyes of the South Korean government, the new policy did not have any obvious mistakes and was widely supported by public opinion. Because the number of doctors in South Korea is already severely insufficient, the decline in birth rates and the aging population continue to worsen the national medical supply and demand situation, it is necessary to increase medical school admissions to supplement fresh blood.

But interns and resident doctors in South Korea believe that this move is pushing them to a dead end. Over 90% of hospitals in South Korea are private and rely entirely on self-reliance. In their view, expanding admissions will not truly solve the shortage of doctors. There are three main reasons:

First, training more doctors means that the already limited education funds will be further squeezed, the quality of medical education for students will not be guaranteed, and a large number of “half-baked” students will eventually be accepted by the medical system, which will seriously reduce the quality of medical care in the long run.

Second, the proportion of doctors in South Korea is already high among the population, and the current dilemma of the medical system is not that there are “too few doctors,” but that there is a “disproportionate ratio of doctors in different regions and departments.”

Doctors in remote areas are severely lacking, and ordinary people with slightly more complicated diseases have to be transferred to hospitals in Seoul; departments with high profits such as dermatology and plastic surgery are disproportionately thriving, filled with too many unnecessary doctors, while departments such as emergency, surgery, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology that are “low-paying, high-risk, and high-pressure” are severely understaffed. This is not a problem that can be solved by “expanding admissions” alone. It is necessary to find a way to bring doctors back and make them work in departments such as “emergency obstetrics and pediatrics.”

Third, interns and resident doctors, who account for more than 40%, face enormous economic and work pressure. Compared with full-time doctors, interns and resident doctors have a higher workload and lower salary. Working 80 hours a week, working hard and risking their lives, they may eventually climb to the position of a full-time doctor. Now that the government is expanding admissions,

the number of competitors behind them will increase, and the current situation of “too many wolves and too little meat” will be further squeezed. The treatment of interns and resident doctors will not only fail to improve but will worsen, pushing them to a dead end.

In general, the conflict can be summed up in one sentence: the government wants to increase the total number of doctors, but the doctors demand improvements in treatment and the quality of the medical system.

According to a survey by the Korea Institute of Health and Social Sciences, as of 2020, the annual salaries of interns and residents in South Korea are 68.82 million won (about US$52K) and 72.8 million won (about US$55K) respectively. Only One-third of full-time doctors anually salary (about US$180K).


Interns and resident doctors work much harder than full-time doctors but earn far less. With more intern doctors pouring into hospitals after the expansion of admissions, their already limited income will only decrease.

As the strike continues, according to South Korean media reports, due to the absence of interns and resident doctors, some professors and full-time doctors have been forced to extend their working hours to 90 hours per week. If this situation continues for more than two weeks, these doctors will collapse. In addition, nurses filling the vacancies left by interns and resident doctors are also troubled by heavy workloads, especially PA nurses who assist in surgery, treatment, and prescription writing. They also have to work night shifts for doctors and sometimes need to work continuously for 30 hours.

In this situation, the impact of the strike on the public has become very serious.

According to South Korean media reports, an 80-year-old patient died on the way to treatment and transfer. The patient was sent to the hospital for emergency treatment due to sudden cardiac arrest. During the transfer, emergency personnel contacted hospitals that could accept patients by phone, but they were refused by 7 hospitals in a row for reasons such as “no hospital beds, no specialized medical personnel, and unable to treat critically ill patients.” 53 minutes later, the ambulance finally arrived at a hospital that could admit the patient, but the patient was already pronounced dead.

According to data from the Daegu City Fire Department, within just four days of the strike beginning, there were 23 cases in Daegu City where ambulance transfers of patients were delayed due to doctors’ absence. Some patients even found a hospital that could treat them after calling for an ambulance for more than three hours. With the extension of the strike time, chemotherapy and surgery for some late-stage cancer patients have been forced to be canceled. A patient with advanced rectal cancer said, “I already have liver metastasis from cancer, but the scheduled surgery has been canceled. I don’t know when I will recover. I am very scared now, afraid of missing the opportunity for a liver transplant.”

How will the strike end? Both sides will compromise

But ultimately, it is the patients who suffer! Neither side is willing to compromise, and people are worried about how this strike by South Korean doctors will end.

Since the beginning of this year until mid-February, Yoon Suk-yeol’s approval rating has never exceeded 40%. However, since the doctors resigned and went on strike on February 19th, Yoon Suk-yeol has taken a tough stance, and his support rate has started to rise, approaching or exceeding 40%. This shows the positive effect of this turmoil on Yoon Suk-yeol’s election prospects.

Some international affairs experts pointed out: Yoon Suk-yeol’s government is in a difficult situation. If he makes concessions now, he will inevitably lose support due to the loss of principles, and it will be even more difficult to promote medical reforms in the future.

In order to make the doctors return to work as soon as possible, Yoon Suk-yeol has repeatedly emphasized that “measures will be taken according to the law.” On March 1st, the South Korean police raided the office of the Korean Medical Association (KMA) on suspicion of violating the “Medical Law” and issued detention and search warrants for five former and current high-ranking executives of the association. The government said the five were suspected of inciting or assisting interns and resident doctors to participate in collective actions through providing legal aid, disrupting the order of hospital diagnosis and treatment. This move has not only been strongly protested by the Korean Medical Association but also condemned by the chairman of the World Medical Association, who stated that “police aggression is unacceptable” and expressed support for the KMA’s strike action.

Therefore, Yoon Suk-yeol will not compromise, but the group of doctors is also unlikely to compromise. Both sides are unwilling to compromise, and the victims can only be the patients.

It is worth noting that in 2020, when the South Korean government announced the expansion of medical school admissions, doctors went on strike collectively for a month, forcing former President Moon Jae-in to retract the decision. With the precedent of the last “successful” strike, the large-scale strike by doctors will surely continue until their demands are met.

Currently, there is a general anxiety in South Korean society. The interest groups and high-income groups are anxious about the decrease in income or the decline in social status, hoping to maintain their current interests, while the relatively weak groups hold opposing views, exacerbating social contradictions.

Since taking office, Yoon Suk-yeol has continuously “heated up” traditional social contradictions in South Korea, including ideological contradictions (progressive vs. conservative), regional contradictions (Jeolla-do vs. Gyeongsang-do), and generational contradictions (the “democratization generation” in their forties and fifties vs. the “industrialization generation” over sixty). The highlighted gender opposition and the dispute over rights between teachers and students or parents have also sparked huge controversies.

However, the strike by doctors must come to an end. Wang Xiaoke, associate professor at the Jilin University Center for Northeast Asian Studies, said, “The outcome of this turmoil may be a compromise on both sides. The Yoon Suk-yeol government may promise to increase the treatment of interns and resident doctors, or expand admissions in stages, rather than directly expanding by 2,000. As for the doctors, hospital professors and full-time doctors may come forward to coordinate the contradictions.”

How the situation will develop remains to be further observed.

South Korean Doctor Strike: Some patients were refused by 7 hospitals and died!

(source:internet, reference only)

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