[Editorial] Raising the medical school student quota

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[Editorial] Raising the medical school student quota

The Ministry of Education recently asked the Ministry of Health and Welfare to increase the enrollment quota for medical schools. The last time that the quota was lifted or a new medical school opened upon agreement between the two ministries was in1997, when a medical school was set up by Gachon University.

The quota was reduced incrementally to 3,058 from 2000 to 2006, and has stayed unchanged since.

In 2020, the government proposed to expand the quota to 4,000, but it had to fold the plan after the proposal drew strong protest from medical students and doctors who boycotted the state exam. Resident doctors even walked out. The government could not push the plan as it needed medical professionals to fight the Covid-19 pandemic when it was in full force.

The medical community still believes that a quota increase is unnecessary due to a thinning population and easy access to medical care today. According to 2019 statistics, outpatient care per person was 16.9 times a year, higher than the OECD average of 7.1.

But easier access to medical care in Korea owes much to its good health insurance system, not to a sufficient number of medical doctors. As of 2020, physicians per 1,000 people averaged 2.5 for Korea, below the OECD average of 3.7. In Seoul, the number is 3.5 as of July, whereas the number is much smaller in the provinces — 1.4 in North Gyeongsang and 1.3 in Sejong city.

Hospitals lack doctors in essential departments these days. Of 80 training hospitals, only 29 can accept emergency pediatric cases. Many parents with sick children have to travel from one emergency center to another to receive treatment. The enrollment of residency for pediatrics for next year fell to a record low of 16.6 percent.

According to a report the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs submitted to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the country could be short by as many as 27,232 doctors by 2035.

“The workload per doctor will increase by 14.7 percent at the time,” the report said. Without increasing the number of doctors, medical services will deteriorate. The Ministry of Education wanted to raise the enrollment quota to enhance access to medical care and lessen the gap in medical services across the country.

But instead of merely stretching the number, measures to set up public medical schools, which can mandate residency in provinces for a certain period and motivate more students to apply for essential medical departments, should be devised to fill the critical vacuum in such fields. The training system in medical schools must also include programs to groom medical scientists.
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