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(LEAD) Trainee doctors set to return to work Tuesday, urge measures for licensing exam fiasco

All News 14:39 September 07, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES headline, lead, photo; UPDATES with more info throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- Trainee doctors will return to work this week, ending a weekslong collective action, their representatives said Monday, as the country's largest doctors' association has signed a deal with the ruling party to end a nationwide strike over a controversial medical reform plan.

The Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) representing interns and residents at general hospitals said its members will return to hospitals as of 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Junior doctors, however, will launch an escalated collective action if the government does not come up with further measures within two weeks to support medical students who did not apply for a state medical licensing exam set to be held Tuesday.

Seoul National University Hospital is crowded with patients on Sept. 7, 2020. (Yonhap)

Thousands of trainee doctors working at general hospitals began the strike on Aug. 21 to protest the government's medical reform scheme that calls for increasing the quota for medical students, establishing a new public medical school and giving medical insurance coverage to oriental medicine treatment.

The Korean Medical Association (KMA), which represents some 130,000 doctors across the country, joined the collective action but agreed to return to work Friday after the government backed down and promised to put the medical reform plans on hold.

Friday's deal raised hope for the normalization of hospital operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but it angered the junior doctors, who said their views were not properly reflected in it.

KIRA and medical students have balked at the KMA's deal with the government, saying they will continue to reject the state medical licensing exam in protest over the agreement.

The exam, however, will be carried out as scheduled, the health ministry reaffirmed. A total of 446 out of 3,172 exam applicants, or 14 percent, will take the exam, according to the ministry.

The government and hospitals have been urging doctors to halt the strike, as their collective action has disrupted medical services at hospitals and other medical centers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.


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