South Korea Supreme Court upholds government plan to increase medical school admissions amid doctor protests News
South Korea Supreme Court upholds government plan to increase medical school admissions amid doctor protests

The Supreme Court of Korea dismissed an appeal on Thursday filed by doctors and medical professionals aiming to stop the South Korean government’s plan to increase the medical school admissions by up to 2,000 students next year, according to reports from local media. This initiative responds to the need to increase the number of medical professionals to address South Korea’s rapidly aging population and the low doctor-to-population ratio.

For several months, South Korea’s healthcare system has faced disruptions due to strikes by more than 10,000 junior doctors, who have been protesting since February. The protesting senior doctors, estimated to be between 115,000 and 140,000, represent a significant proportion of the medical staff in major hospitals. The doctors contend that medical schools are ill-prepared for a sudden surge in student numbers, a situation they believe will compromise the quality of medical services. They argue that the government’s plan could lead to doctors performing unnecessary procedures due to heightened competition. However, some critics suggest that the primary concern for many doctors is that increased competition may reduce their earnings.

In the decision, the court emphasized that the government’s policy was “procedurally justified and rationalized” with no “obvious procedural or substantive flaws.” Even though this decision could “compromise medical students’ right to learn,” the court ruled in favor of “public welfare.”

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo welcomed the court’s decision during a public address, thanking “the judicial branch’s wise ruling” that facilitated the passing of “a major juncture” in “the expansion of medical schools and medical reform.” Addressing the issue of some medical school professors who announced closures in protest, he cautioned that “the public will no longer accept the practice of taking patients’ lives hostage for collective action.” He affirmed his commitment to continuing the reforms, stating that “we cannot be called a responsible government if we allow the collapse of essential medical care and local medical care to continue like this.”

Lim Hyun-taek, president of the Korean Medical Association (KMA), criticized the decision as “the final death sentence that will ruin the medical system.” Lim conveyed the sentiments of the protesting doctors and medical students, stating they “have no intention of going back” and are “willing to repeat a grade.” Lim warned of the potential long-term consequences, stating that “there will be a medical gap of approximately 10 years from the first year of pre-med to the fourth year of residency.”

Following the ruling, Lee Byung-chul, the lawyer representing the doctors, reflected on the court’s decision, saying, “it means that the case was 90 percent successful, but 10 percent was insufficient.” He further explained, “the appeal was dismissed due to concerns about public welfare, yet we have identified a potential solution to this that we believe could address the court’s concerns.” Lee expressed optimism about the possibility of a re-appeal, noting, “as long as we proceed quickly, it is possible to make a final decision by the end of May.”