(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on Feb. 29)

Trainee doctors must return to their hospital The deadline for trainee doctors to return to their hospital is Thursday. Second Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Park Min-soo repeatedly begged doctors - on walkout for the government's plan to increase the enrollment quota for medical schools by 2,000 from next year - to return to their hospital. The government promised that it will not give them any punishment if they return now. But if the trainee doctors don't return, the government plans to revoke their medical licenses for at least three months and take legal actions against them. If the doctors receive a license suspension of more than three months, they will have trouble obtaining a certificate for specialty doctors. The trainee doctors can be disadvantaged if they want to work overseas, not to mention provoking a chain reaction of protest from current medical students. If doctors are in short supply, it will threaten the health of patients. The Ministry of Health and Welfare on Wednesday visited th eir homes and directly delivered an administrative order to return to their hospitals. The ministry took the action to maximize the effectiveness of its judicial process. At the same time, the police have launched investigations into five doctors - including the head of the emergency committee of the Korean Medical Association, a doctors' interest group, and the head of its public relations committee - after the ministry's accusations. Earlier, Vice Health Minister Park threatened to take punitive actions against all trainee doctors unless they return to their hospital. Most of their seven demands - including "a complete nullification of the government's plan for the quota increase" and "a withdrawal of the illicit administrative order" - are certainly detached from public sentiment. Reaffirming the original plan for the quota hike, President Yoon Suk Yeol warned them not to take a collective action by taking hostage our people's health and life. "Such a threat can never justify their walkout," the president said. Given the huge gap between the government and doctor groups over their perception of the medical crisis, both sides must find solutions to resolve the crisis. To do that, trainee doctors must first return to their hospital. Nurses and other medical aides cannot replace doctors. Fortunately, some trainee doctors are returning to their hospital and the government also took a step back, as seen in its willingness to revise the draconian law aimed at holding doctors accountable for medical accidents. The government must continue to make efforts to have dialogue with doctors to avoid a medical vacuum. The top priority should be protecting patients' health, above all. We hope trainee doctors return to their hospital today to prevent a medical disaster. Source: Yonhap News Agency