South Korea’s doctors protest over increase intake - GulfToday

South Korea’s doctors protest over increase intake

Doctors protest against the government’s plan to raise the annual enrolment quota at medical schools in Seoul. AFP

Doctors protest against the government’s plan to raise the annual enrolment quota at medical schools in Seoul. AFP

Around 1,600 of the trainee doctors in South Korea’s hospitals walked out in protest, even as 6,500 of the doctors and interns gave in their resignation letters. They are protesting the government’s decision to increase the number of students in medical colleges.

The government wants to add 2,000 to the existing 3,000 in the medical colleges. The doctors, interns and trainee doctors argue that increase in numbers would dilute the quality of the doctors who would pass out of these colleges. South Korea has one of the lowest doctor to patient ratio with 2.2 doctors for 1,000 while the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or developed economies’ ratio is 3.7 per thousand population. The government wants to increase the intake in medical colleges to 10,000 by 2035.

It seems a strange dilemma. The government’s plan makes sense because as the population of the aged in the South Korean society grows, the need for medical assistance  will also increase. And the objections of the doctors is legitimate too because the greater the number of doctors, then it becomes difficult to maintain the rigour to turn out good and knowledgeable medical practitioners.

The ideal solution would of course be that the quality of medical education should be maintained even as the number of doctors increases. There is no denying the fact about the need for a greater number of doctors. One of the surprising arguments put forward by the protesting doctors is that if there is an increase in the number of medical practitioners too many tests would be ordered by the doctors.

The people support the government’s decision. The doctors’ community opposing it is attributed to the privileged status enjoyed by the doctors in society because they are small in number and they form a close band. The solution perhaps lies in taking into account the objections raised by the doctors, and ensure that the rigour of medical college teaching is maintained. Quality is an essential aspect of the medical profession and it cannot be sacrificed if the numbers go up.

In South Korea’s 52 million population, education enjoys the highest respect. And every young Korean stretches herself/himself to be part of the school and college network in the country. Parents invest in their children’s education. It involves lot of hard work and heartbreak because it is not possible for everyone to make the grade, and those who fail to make it outnumber those who make the grade.

South Korea’s emphasis on education is one of the secrets behind the successful growth story of this Asian Tiger. The South Korean economy maintains a technological edge in terms of research and development, and there is the fierce ambition to outflank the West in terms of quality. It is this desire to have the state-of-art technology to power the economy  that makes the South Korean economy so competitive. South Korea, despite the relatively small size of its population and economy, is among the front-runners among the market economies of the world.

What might appear as a bizarre opposition of doctors against more doctors is the fierce competitiveness in the educational stakes in the country.

It is indeed a fact that what gives the country an edge is the superior quality of its products – China is an exception because it thrives on mass production of cheap goods – and that includes its medical system. It can be argued that the small band of medical practitioners is a sign of high quality but somewhere the numbers matter. If there are more people who need medical attention and assistance, there is no escaping the fact that the number of doctors have to go up.


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