Fewer doctors to be dispatched to country hospitals

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Fewer doctors to be dispatched to country hospitals

From this year, public health doctors will not be dispatched to private clinics or hospitals in rural areas, due to a shortage of manpower.

Public health doctors are typically men with medical licenses who serve as health doctors in rural areas for three years instead of serving in the country’s mandatory military service.

With a shortage of public health doctors this year - 500 less compared to last year - the government decided to first dispatch doctors to clinics in isolated areas and public hospitals.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said yesterday that there are 1,253 newly appointed public health doctors who will begin their work in April, 485 fewer than last year.

Among them, 765 are medical doctors, 175 are dentists and 313 are oriental medicine doctors, down 372, 46 and 68, respectively, compared to last year.

However, 1,738 public health doctors will be finishing their term by the end of this year, according to the health ministry. This means that there will only be 4,071 public health doctors, down from the current 4,545, making it inevitable that rural areas will suffer from the lack of public health care.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare said they will prioritize areas and dispatch public health doctors first to public hospitals that circulate in health centers on islands and in farming and fishing villages, and then to the national psychiatric hospital and national tuberculosis hospital. Currently, public health doctors make up 85 percent of the doctors in 253 health clinics across the country.

However, the ministry decided not to dispatch public health doctors at private hospitals in rural areas with underserved health care. So far, private hospitals were able to make use of public health doctors as they faced difficulty in hiring due to “undesirable” locations. Currently, 322 public health doctors are working at 195 private hospitals in rural areas. The ministry said it will only dispatch a minimum number of public health doctors to private hospitals with emergency rooms; therefore, only 111 health doctors will be working at a total of 80 private hospitals from this year.

As the country adopted the medical graduate school system in 2003, many doctors and dentists have already served their regular military service, contributing to the decrease in public health doctors. Some people are criticizing the government that it should have anticipated the deficit before adopting the medical graduate school system.

Moreover, the authority to dispatch public health doctors to local governments is also being criticized as another contributing factor.

During the National Assembly’s inspection into government offices last year, it was revealed that health facilities in seven areas, including Seogwipo in Jeju, Icheon, Wonju, Gimhae, Jinju, Changwon and Daejeon dispatched an excessive number of public health doctors.

Ryu Geun-hyeok, an official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare said, “We are planning to hold a meeting to discuss the dispatching of public health doctors,” and added, “We are considering utilizing retired medical doctors and increasing the pay for doctors in health clinics.”

By Park Yu-mi [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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