(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 20)

The ongoing conflict between doctors and the government over a plan to increase the student quota for medical schools is deepening after resident doctors at the big five hospitals - including Seoul National University Hospital and Severance Hospital - collectively walked out in protest of the quota increase. The new development torments a number of patients desperately waiting for surgery. Despite repeated warnings from the government, however, more resident doctors are submitting their letters of resignation. Korea has the smallest number of physicians per 1,000 among OECD member countries, only after Mexico. While the OECD average is 3.7, Korea's is 2.6. Even Germany has worked to increase the number of its doctors. "We are discussing an additional increase in the quota after deciding to raise it by more than 5,000 within this year," Dr. Thomas Steffen, deputy secretary of the Federal Ministry of Health, said. "No doctors oppose it." When Britain more than doubled the medical student quota over the past two decades - and when the United States increased the quota by 38 percent over the same period - there was no collective action against the increase. In Japan, its medical association opposed an increase, but did not stage a general strike. We wonder why our doctors threaten a strike whenever the issue is raised. In Korea, the quota could not increase from 3,058 in 2006 due to physician groups' collective actions. Despite the imminent breakdown in essential medical fields and the regional medical system, doctors kept opposing the increase, without suggesting any alternatives. The Ministry of Health and Welfare must thoroughly check if those resident doctors comply with its order to return to their hospital. If they defy the order, the government must take stern actions against them. National police chief Yoon Hee-keun must show that he was not bluffing when he said the police would arrest the ringleaders. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo ordered emergency rooms of 409 hospitals across the country to operate 24 hours a day and instructed emergency rooms of 12 military hospitals to be opened to civilians. He must consider allowing remote diagnosis and treatment now. Above all, doctors must face reality head on and return to their senses. They must not forget they took the Hippocratic oath. We also hope the government demonstrates an ability to increase the quota by promising resident doctors a better work environment than before. Source: Yonhap News Agency

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