(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 28)

It all starts with a head-to-head meeting Thursday is the deadline the government set for doctors to return to their hospitals. But trainee doctors still refuse to return. If this stalemate continues, catastrophe cannot be avoided. In an emergency meeting, Health Minister Cho Kyu-hong once again urged trainee doctors to return to their hospitals by the end of February. The government announced it will suspend doctors' licenses from March 1 and launch a judicial procedure if they don't return to their hospital. But the situation isn't getting any better. According to the Central Countermeasures Headquarters, 9,906 trainee doctors at 99 hospitals across the country submitted their resignations to their hospital as of Monday. Interns and full-time doctors are prepared to refuse to renew their contracts with their hospital later this month or early March. Second Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Park Min-soo largely brushed off the deepening concerns about the treatment of critically-ill patients while conf irming "some inconveniences for patients with mild illnesses." But the worried medical vacuum has surfaced, as seen in the death of a woman in her 80s from cardiac arrest while trying to get an emergency room. If there is no progress in the standoff, the government will have to take stern actions to convince citizens of its determination to increase the enrollment quota for medical schools to resolve a shortage of doctors. If the government puts into action its warnings against trainee doctors, full-time doctors and medical professors will likely join their walkout. If so, our medical system will suffer unprecedented chaos. Fortunately, there is a glimmer of hope. The vice health minister took a step back, saying, "All agendas, including the quota increase, can be put on the table." The government had excluded the increase from negotiation with doctors. It also plans to enact a special bill to help ease doctors' liability for medical accidents. The Medical Professors Association also volunteered to mediate between the government and other medical groups to help find a breakthrough in the deadlock. As the medical professors advised, the government must stop the one-sided plan to increase the quota, and medical groups must come to the negotiating table after stopping their street protests. Before coming to the table, doctors must build a consensus among themselves over the issue, given the divergent demands among trainee doctors, the Korean Medical Association and medical schools and students. The government must refrain from rushing to cancel doctors' licenses or taking a legal action against them. It can never be the goal for one side to surrender to the other side no matter what. Source: Yonhap News Agency