(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Feb. 28)

Preventing unnecessary collapse Gov't, doctors should both step back, compromise After more than a week of a mass walkout by junior doctors protesting against a rise in medical school admissions quotas, the government has issued a call for their return by tomorrow or warned of potential punitive measures. President Yoon Suk Yeol emphasized on Tuesday that collective action cannot be justified on any grounds, reiterating that an increase of 2,000 seats was the minimum requirement to ensure timely treatment for the sick. Prime Minister Han Duck-soo also asked the trainees to return to work. We hope this deadline can break the current stalemate at hospitals and jumpstart new talks on adjusting the enrollment quota at the medical schools. As of Monday, 9,909 trainee doctors or 80.6 percent of them at 99 teaching hospitals in the country, have submitted resignations, and 8,939 have walked out to protest the government plan to increase the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 next year. The number of surger ies performed daily has been halved, and on Monday, a patient with a heart attack died after spending 53 minutes trying to find a hospital. The government has been stepping up its warnings against the protest, saying the legal consequences can include a three-month suspension of medical licenses. But Interior Minister Lee Sang-min and Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo hinted at the possibility of considering all options, including discussions. The medical school professors are talking with the trainee doctors, and it would be a great relief to many if they return. The medical sector and the government should listen to these interns and the resident doctors, who work long hours. The Korean Medical Association has vowed to hold a mass rally early next month, which they said would be the "beginning of a long march against the government's policy." All relevant parties here should think about the chaotic nightmare such a standoff will bring. Previous Korean administrations have - without success - attempted to expand the medical school admissions quota. Each time, strong resistance from the professional group of physicians had effectively roiled the attempt, with the admissions quota fixed at 3,058 annually for nearly two decades. Citing an aging society that will require more care later and the need for doctors in rural areas, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration sees the figure 2,000 as the minimum to fulfill those needs. The medical sector opines that more doctors alone won't simply resolve these issues. Both sides cannot afford to persist in their entrenched positions, especially with patients caught in the crossfire. The deadline of Thursday is closely aligned with a possible walkout by medical fellows, who are currently shouldering the work left behind by the trainee doctors. Many fear the situation will worsen in March if the standoff continues. As the chaos at hospitals continues, public consensus is strengthening that Korea needs to expand the admissions quota for medical schools. Compared to the average of 3.7 doctors per 1,000 people among OECD member states, there are 2.6 doctors for every 1,000 Koreans. Only Mexico has a lower figure at 2.5. A recent Gallup Korea poll found that 76 percent of Koreans said they want an increase in the number of doctors. The two sides, as painful as it may be, should seriously consider taking a step back and compromising on various issues, including a gradual increase of the medical quota. The government also needs to be far more flexible in its approach. Its current approach reflects excessive unilateralism and insufficient efforts to build consensus. The primary focus should be on treating and caring for patients, rather than engaging in conflicts over individual interests. Source: Yonhap News Agency