(EDITORIAL from Korea JoongAng Daily on March 27)

No dialogue only leads to medical catastrophe

A doctor with a hardline stance against the government will soon lead the Korean Medical Association (KMA). Both Lim Hyun-taek and Joo Su-ho, candidates for the new president of the association, are the most hawkish against the government’s plan to increase the enrollment quota for medical schools. Whosever wins the runoff will certainly fuel the conflict between the government and the medical community. Joo called for a review of the hike from the start and Lim insisted on reducing the government-proposed increase of 2,000 to 1,000.

Though the crisis began with the government’s sudden announcement of 2,000 more students for medical schools, doctors cannot avoid responsibility for the crisis. Doctors’ groups did not present an appropriate level of the hike by dismissing public demand for more admissions. Since medical professors tendered their resignations following the walkout by trainee doctors, large hospitals are having serious trouble treating patients.

We hope that People Power Party interim leader Han Dong-hoon’s meeting with doctors on Sunday will help find a breakthrough in the deadlock. President Yoon Suk Yeol also toned down his threat to suspend trainee doctors’ license to practice medicine. But the apparent election of a hardline president of the KMA can throw cold water on rekindling the dialogue.

The government would not budge an inch, as implied by President Yoon’s reaffirmation of the quota increase as the “starting point for medical reform.” Park Min-soo, vice minister of health and welfare, has made it official: The government will take follow-up measures by May.

The sharp conflict between the government and medical community — with the former holding on to the 2,000 hike while the latter using a withdrawal of the increase as a precondition for dialogue — leaves no room for compromise. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Han Duck-soo met with leaders of medical schools, including Seoul National University Hospital President Kim Young-tae, and presidents of major universities to propose the establishment of a body for dialogue among stakeholders. We welcome the developments, though belated. Those leaders of higher education will hopefully resolve the ongoing medical crisis.

The crisis cannot be addressed without the participation of doctors. They must clearly explain why the quota increase does not make sense. If they come up with reasonable explanations and options, other leaders of our society would roll up their sleeves to untie the knot. But if doctors refuse to talk with the government by reiterating earlier positions, they worsen patients’ health. Doctors must think again.

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