Medical school quota hike ‘prerequisite’ for medical service normalization: interior minister

SEOUL, Increasing the nationwide medical school admission quota is a "prerequisite" for the normalization of the country's medical services, the interior minister said Wednesday, sticking to the government's 2,000-seat expansion despite escalating protests from doctors. Interior Minister Lee Sang-min made the remark during a government meeting as the government-medical standoff intensifies over the medical reform initiative aimed at enhancing medical services in rural areas and essential medical fields. "The first medical school quota expansion in 27 years is a prerequisite to initiate the normalization of medical services," Lee said. "The government aims to expand, albeit belatedly, the number of doctors, which has been absolutely in short supply." The minister stressed that the country's 16 major cities and provinces, except Seoul, have on average 1.93 doctors per every 1,000 residents, far lower than the average of 3.7 among member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. "Medical centers in regional areas struggle to hire doctors, and patients in these regions face long distances to reach hospitals," he said, adding that other nations have also been steadily expanding their medical school quotas in response to their aging populations. The minister also urged striking doctors to end their "all-consuming confrontation" and engage in dialogue with the government for "constructive talks," while asking medical professors to persuade junior doctors to return to work. "The government will proactively communicate by establishing a constructive consultative body, listen carefully to the opinions and proposals of the medical community, and have them reflected in policies," Lee said. More than 90 percent of the country's 13,000 trainee doctors have been on strike in the form of mass resignations since Feb. 20 to protest the government's decision to increase the medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 seats from the current 3,058. Defying the government's repeated offers for dialogu e, medical professors at universities and general hospitals nationwide have started submitting resignations en masse this week in support of the trainee doctors' walkout. Source: Yonhap News Agency