The Korea Herald


Yoon vows to respect views of junior doctors

By Park Jun-hee

Published : April 4, 2024 - 15:12

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Doctors walk outside a university hospital in Seoul on Thursday (Yonhap) Doctors walk outside a university hospital in Seoul on Thursday (Yonhap)

President Yoon Suk Yeol said Thursday that he would respect junior doctors’ position on the medical student quota expansion plan when discussing the matter with the medical community in the future, his office said, after he met with the head of the group.

Yoon met with Park Dan, the head of the Korean Intern Resident Association, two days after he had offered to talk with the trainee doctors, saying he was willing to hear their voices.

At the meeting held at the presidential office lasting more than two hours, Yoon “listened attentively” to Park about the problems with the current medical system and exchanged views on improving the working conditions and treatment of junior doctors, Yoon’s office said in a statement. The president told Park that he would respect trainee doctors’ views on the quota plan, it said, but later clarified that this didn’t imply the possibility of the government initiating renegotiations with doctors by reducing the quota from 2,000 to 600.

Breaking the silence on the issue, Park earlier wrote in a message sent to high-level KIRA members that it would be worthwhile to convey junior doctors’ opinions to Yoon before the April 10 election.

“(I know that many of you) are concerned (about me meeting Yoon). (But) I believe that it was the president’s will that initiated the current situation. Since the president himself is coming out to talk (with junior doctors), I thought it would be meaningful to directly tell him what junior doctors have in mind,” the text message read.

Park and his group of trainee doctors have walked out of their jobs since February out of protest against the expansion plan, emphasizing that it was their individual choices rather than a collective action.

Park noted that the decision to engage in talks was made after “thorough discussions” with the KIRA’s delegates, despite rumors that it was made without properly heeding other members’ opinions.

He also said that the negotiation does not mean a change in attitude toward having more medical students starting next year amid hopes that the meeting could signal a breakthrough in the monthslong medical standoff.

“There’s no change in principle in the stance and demands (to the government) the KIRA released on February 20,” the message further read.

The February statement demanded that the government scrap its plan to add 2,000 additional seats to the medical school enrollment quota, recruit more trainee doctors at training hospitals, safeguard doctors from medical accidents by establishing a legal framework, improve working conditions for trainee doctors and backtrack on issuing return-to-work orders to those who left their workplaces.

In a statement released later in the afternoon, the KIRA underscored the importance of the dialogue, calling it an “opportunity to directly convey junior doctors’ opinions to the head of the country’s administrative system.”

“(We) will not negotiate on (demands) that don’t reflect the voices of trainee doctors. The final decision (of our requirements) will be finalized through voting,” it said.

“If (our) demands are not accepted (by Yoon), we’ll go back to what we are doing right now. A change won’t immediately happen today,” it noted.

The medical circle was also warm on the meeting, saying it brought the government and doctors together.

“The dialogue itself holds significant meaning. It’s truly fortunate that it happened. If the government pulls back from its plan to add 2,000 more seats, it could serve as a condition that could bring trainee doctors back,” Bang Jae-seung, who heads the emergency response committee of medical school professors, said in an interview with Yonhap News Agency.