On August 26, the Korean Medical Association (KMA) shocked Korean society with the second collective strike. The main reason for the strike is the government's recent plan to establish a public medical school and increase the number of doctors by 4,000. The first reason for these policies is that there are not many young doctors who apply to the departments that deal with essential areas, such as cardiothoracic surgery and obstetrics. Another reason is to narrow the medical gap between urban and rural areas. To solve these problems, the government plans to establish a public medical school, and provide tuition to students who enter the school. Plus, it intends to make a policy that forces them to serve in medical vulnerable areas for 10 years after graduation, majoring in several essential medical fields that the government sets. Now, let's dig into why KMA is taking the opposite position on the policy.
It is true that Korea has 2.4 doctors per 1,000 people, less than the OECD average of 3.5. However, what matters is not the number of doctors, but the accessibility of hospitals and services. Korean medical accessibility is the best in the world. The average number of outpatient service per person is 17 per year, 2.5 times higher than the OECD average. In other words, the number of doctors and medical accessibility are not proportional. Therefore, increasing the number of doctors cannot narrow the gap between urban and rural areas. Instead, the government should invest to vitalize local health care, such as setting up large and good hospitals in rural areas. Even, if it forces doctors to work in a medically vulnerable area without the freedom of residing in other areas for 10 years, I think the quality of medical care will inevitably decrease. In addition, few people are expected to remain in the same area after the mandatory service. Plus, the reason for the lack of doctors in vital departments such as cardiothoracic and pediatric surgery is not because of the shortage of doctors but because of the lack of job openings for them. Major surgeries affecting human lives account for about 30 percent of the services provided by hospitals, with just a few large hospitals across the country handling them. In other words, even though they specialize in the areas closely related to human life, there are not many places where they can work while utilizing and applying their specialty skills. Therefore, it is necessary to increase the cost of vital operations to prevent hospitals from losing money due to surgery. It will make many hospitals set up their own surgical facilities and hire doctors. It is expected that the costs resulting from this will be met by the cost of establishing and operating a public medical school and reducing currently inefficient use of medical expenses.
The strike has been over; however any beneficial results have not come out yet. Admitting that the policy makers of the government are very competent, a policy will not gain a public support if they do not listen to the voices of the people involved with the area. We expect a valid agreement to be reached in negotiations between the government and experts in related fields.