(LEAD) Walkout by trainee doctors expected to intensify as medical graduates refuse to join internships

A large-scale walkout by trainee doctors is expected to intensify as new medical school graduates reportedly refused to take internships, joining an ongoing protest against the government's plan to boost the number of medical students. The move by medical school graduates is likely to pile pressure on the government as thousands of intern and resident doctors in major general hospitals have walked off the job for the sixth consecutive day in opposition to the government's plan to admit 2,000 more students to medical schools next year. At Chonnam National University Hospital in Gwangju, 267 kilometers south of Seoul, 86 out of 101 graduates who were scheduled to commence their internships next month have resigned. About 20 intern candidates at Jeju National University Hospital on the southern resort island of Jeju refused to join internships. At Pusan National University Hospital in the southern port city of Busan, all 50 candidates, initially slated to begin their internships Friday, submitted letters of resignation. At Soonchunhyang University Cheonan Hospital in Cheonan, located 85 kilometers south of Seoul, 32 graduates declined internships. Throughout the weekend, major hospitals experienced delays in their operating schedules, prompting even patients in critical condition to seek care at smaller medical facilities. Some hospitals adjusted their intensive care unit schedules from three shifts to two due to the shortage of on-duty doctors. The walkout came despite the government's stern warning that those leading the collective action could face arrest and those involved in a strike could have their medical licenses canceled. On Friday, the government raised its four-scale health care service crisis gauge to the highest level of "serious" in response to the departure of doctors. The government claims the increase is necessary to address a shortage of doctors, particularly in rural areas and essential medical fields, such as high-risk surgeries, pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine. Doctors, however, argue that the government should rather focus on protecting them from malpractice suits and improving compensation to induce more physicians to practice in such unpopular areas. Meanwhile, the Korean Medical Association, the biggest lobbying group of doctors, plans to convene a meeting later Sunday to discuss their course of action, according to medical sources. Source: Yonhap News Agency