Punitive steps loom as most trainee doctors show little signs of return on deadline day

Most trainee doctors who walked off their jobs to protest against the government's policy showed little sign of going back to work on Thursday, a deadline set by the government for them to return to work or they will face suspension of licenses and even indictment. About 9,000 trainee doctors left their worksites for the 10th day in a row Thursday, in protest of the government's plan to boost the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 next year, from the current 3,058. Major general hospitals nationwide were grappling with the absence of trainee doctors by significantly reducing their operations, including surgeries, emergency rooms and intensive care units. In the final procedure for the government to file a criminal complaint over the labor action, health ministry officials have visited the homes of representatives of trainee doctors to deliver the government's back-to-work order. Previously, trainee doctors had refused to receive the order by turning off their phones when the government sent such an order via text messages. Health Minister Cho Kyoo-hong made a last-minute appeal to trainee doctors, repeating a pledge that they will not be held accountable if they go back to work by Thursday. "(The government) won't hold trainee doctors responsible if they come back within today," Cho told SBS radio earlier in the day. So far, 294 protesting trainee doctors have returned to work, Second Vice Health Minister Park Min-soo told reporters. As of Wednesday, 9,997 trainee doctors, accounting for 80.2 percent of the total, have submitted their resignations and 9,076 of them left their worksites, Park said. South Korea has been pushing to increase the number of medical freshmen 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 pract ice in such unpopular areas. Source: Yonhap News Agency