A government illusion
The author, a professor at Korea University College of Medicine, is the president of the Korean Council on Medical Education.
The world has been afflicted by the coronavirus pandemic. The novel virus demands sweeping changes in national and social systems and ways. The medical system of both the developed and underdeveloped societies came under test from the pandemic and requires examination. Britain’s pride in the public health system has been shaken. Korea, which relatively lacks public health care, received the opposite spotlight for organized response to the virus outbreak. The pandemic brought new light on not just the medical system and capabilities of medical professionals, but also the differing cultures and public awareness towards infectious disease. The response results have not been the same in countries with similar medical systems.
The medical system involves various dynamics. It is therefore difficult to say what system or model suits best for a country. The Korean government discovered the shortage of public medical facilities and imbalance in supply and demand as the biggest problem in its medical system. It proposed increase in medical school enrollment quota and number of medical schools including institutions in specialized fields. It has been rushing with its plan as if to think all the problems would be solved simply through expansion.
The move has stoked strong protest from the medical community. Covid-19 still poses a threat. Why the government is pressing with a move that can upset the medical community when it is necessary to pay full engagement to the epidemic is incomprehensible. The medical community cannot afford to divert its attention away from Covid-19.
The trainees from the increased medical schools will be put to field about a 10-year time. There is still time for the government to discuss the matter with the medical community.
A policy with education and demographic implications like the increase in medical school quota and training more doctors should be dealt with discretion. Yet the government is railroading away with the plan despite the worries about the side effects. Why the rush, and hasn’t the government promised to pay heed to experts?
The flop in graduate-level medical school and closure of Seonam University Medical School in 2018 all resulted from the disregard of warnings and advice from experts. The damage translates to the public.
It is not easy to predict the future and carve out necessary policies. It is therefore essential to hold thorough discussions with various experts. The law mandates the state draw up five year agendas on areas for sustainable national growth. The health and medical fields are responsible for public health. The government has never set a mid to long-term plan on the health and medical fields since the establishment of the Health and Medical Act in 2000.
Because the Health and Welfare Ministry does not provide a vision, politicians and others randomly give out advice. The ship is about to go astray because there are too many in the command bridge. Confusion has arisen because there is no basic guideline. The ministry must work with the medical community to first formulate a mid- to long-term outline to advance and supply reliable health and medical care.
Medical professionals must be allowed to devote themselves to fight the virus amid lingering risk of a second spread. The government must hold serious discussions with medical experts and draw up sustainable outline to uphold public health.