Gov’t, doctors must keep talking

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Gov’t, doctors must keep talking

A catastrophe in the medical field amid a resurgence of coronavirus has been avoided after the Korean Medical Association (KMA) accepted the government’s promise to revisit its plan to increase admissions for medical students and establish a public medical school.

But the conflict has not been entirely extinguished. Since the virus spread remains a lingering threat, there must not be any source of disputes to ensure stability in the medical community. The dispute over the state medical exam could become another flashpoint.

The annual state exam for doctors’ licenses is composed of two sections — clinical trials and a written test. The clinical exams were to start Sept. 1, and the written test would be held next January. The clinical skill exams began Sept. 8, to last until Nov. 20. But the applications stopped at 446, just 14 percent of the eligible 3,172 test takers. Medical students have boycotted the licensing examinations as they question the sincerity of the government’s promise to back down from its expansion plan.

The sudden agreement between the KMA and the government prompted complaints from doctors in training. The two sides agreed to launch a council and revisit the plan on the condition that trainee doctors immediately return to work.

But many medical students and trainee doctors remain recalcitrant, calling for the government to abandon the plan. There’s been friction between the hawks and doves within the trainee association. Dovish members bolted from the leadership committee, and a new one was established by its hard-line members.

Most trainees at major hospitals, including Seoul National University Hospital, have returned to work. But they vowed to walk out if the government does not rescue students who had not applied for the national exam, within the next two weeks. The government and ruling party maintain they cannot give the students a second chance to apply.

If the government stays rigid, it will stoke another strike crisis. The delay in medical exams could cause a critical vacuum in intern quotas for hospitals and public clinics next year. The government’s actions could ultimately cause a shortage of doctors 10 years later.

The government and medical community must return to the negotiating table and seek a realistic solution while setting aside their differences. The KMA must persuade students while carrying out dialogue with the government. Authorities should become more open-minded and give students another chance to apply for the state exam. And students who have been rescued should feel indebted to the public and live up to their duties.
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