The Korea Herald


Leader of doctors' group continues to spark controversy after 'racism' dispute

By Yoon Min-sik

Published : May 10, 2024 - 16:39

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Lim Hyun-taek, the president of the Korean Medical Association, speaks at the press conference at the KMA headquarters in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap) Lim Hyun-taek, the president of the Korean Medical Association, speaks at the press conference at the KMA headquarters in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, Friday. (Yonhap)

Lim Hyun-taek, the chief of the Korean Medical Association, made yet another controversial comment at a press conference Friday, during which he seemingly disparaged medical schools in other countries.

The recently-elected leader of the doctors' group launched harsh criticism against the South Korean government's plan to allow foreign doctors to practice medicine in the country, in a bid to fill the health care void from the mass walkout of trainee doctors here.

"There are (medical schools) at Hungarian or Uzbek universities, and as for those who go (to such medical schools), they are people with money and limited intellectual abilities. These people have a 33 percent chance of passing the (Korean Medical Licensing Examination), even if they took the test multiple times," Lim said in a televised briefing held at the KMA headquarters in Yonsan-gu, Seoul.

Dr. Choi An-na, a high-ranking official at the KMA, elaborated by saying that Lim's comments were not intended to imply that medical schools in those countries have any problems. She explained that the comments were targeted toward the children of wealthy families in South Korea, who failed to enter a medical school here and opted for other options.

South Korean doctors have been at loggerheads with the Yoon Suk Yeol administration over the government's plans to increase the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 by next year. With the majority of the country's residents and interns walking off the job, the KMA has been demanding that the plan be scrapped altogether.

In light of the medical void, the government recently announced a plan to amend the Medical Service Act to allow physicians with a medical degree from other countries to practice medicine here, in order to avoid a health care crisis. The Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo added that the government does not have immediate plans to let holders of foreign medical licenses practice here.

However, the plan sparked a severe backlash from the medical community, who claimed that it would lead to an influx of doctors from relatively underdeveloped nations.

Lim on Thursday posted on Facebook a photo of a 2008 news article about the Benadir University Medical School in Somalia holding a graduation, which was the first class of doctors to come out of the African nation in almost two decades. The KMA chief wrote "Coming soon," in the post, seemingly in reference to his complaints over "the government importing doctors from underdeveloped countries."

The post prompted nationwide criticism of what was perceived to be a racist remark, especially since the particular group of doctors had to risk their lives just to get to class in the war-torn country.

Lim deleted the post hours later and issued an apology during Friday's briefing, saying he "hadn't been thinking clearly."

The current leader of the KMA took the helm of the group in May for a three-year tenure. He is considered a hardliner, particularly against the government policy that pitted the authorities against doctors in the country.

With the severe shortage of medical staff, medical professors across the country have been subject to overwork. A number of medical professors at major hospitals took a leave of absence on Friday, but there were no reports of a major disruption to public health services.