Workloads surge for medical staff as trainee doctors’ walkout enters 4th day

Workloads have skyrocketed for doctors and nurses at major general hospitals in Seoul as thousands of trainee doctors stayed off their jobs for the fourth consecutive day Friday in protest of the government's plan to raise the medical school quota. Nearly 79 percent, or 8,897, of intern and resident doctors have submitted their resignations so far in their collective action protesting the government's plan to add 2,000 more students to medical schools next year to address a shortage of doctors. Of them, 7,863 had not report for work as of Thursday night, despite the government's back-to-work order and stern warning of punishment, including revocation of their licenses. In the aftermath of their departure, general hospitals in Seoul have struggled to maintain their operations, reducing their surgery capacity by up to 50 percent and trying to fill the vacuum by enlisting the help of doctors in fellowship programs and professors, as well as nurses. However, increasing fatigue and complaints over heavy workl oads among the remaining medical workers raise questions about how low they could endure the mass absence of training doctors, deemed the core workforce at general hospitals. "The number of patients has gone down, but my workload has doubled," a nurse at Seoul National University Hospital (SNUH) in central Seoul told Yonhap News Agency. She said many patients were either discharged from hospitalization or transferred to another hospital due to the training doctors' walkout, but increasing demands from anxious patients who remain and their guardians have led to a far heavier workload. "Professors are now covering three to four wards per person, and the workloads appear to be even heavier for them," she noted. A radiology doctor at SNUH said that he endures his increased workload because he supports the cause of the trainee doctors' collective action. "My work burden has expanded, but I am enduring it because I support their cause. I am willing to do my best to hold out," the doctor said, adding that the w orkloads for surgeons may have about doubled. "I am not sure if we can keep up under these conditions, but everyone is determined and bracing for the possibility that this situation could continue for over a month," the doctor said. At Samsung Medical Center in southern Seoul, an ophthalmology doctor expressed sympathy for patients experiencing inconveniences due to the walkout but firmly asserted his objection to the government plan. "I don't have the time to talk to you because I don't even have the time to blink an eye," the doctor said. Another Samsung doctor also complained of extreme fatigue due to his increased workload, adding, "At the same time, I feel distressed when seeing media stories portraying patients in difficulties."