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(LEAD) Trainee doctors resume work, yet service normalization to take some time

All News 12:06 September 08, 2020

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

SEOUL, Sept. 8 (Yonhap) -- Hundreds of trainee doctors resumed their work Tuesday, ending their 18-day strike over a controversial medical reform plan, but it is expected to take some time before medical service normalizes completely.

Interns and residents at major general hospitals in Seoul, such as Seoul Asan Medical Center and Seoul Samsung Medical Center, returned to hospitals as of 7 a.m., and other young doctors are also set to return later in the day.

Medical students enter a building in Seoul to take a state medical licensing exam on Sept. 8, 2020. (Yonhap)

Junior doctors at most of the general hospitals, however, will first have to take tests for the novel coronavirus before they are assigned to their service, hospital officials said.

They further said it would take at least two weeks and up to one month before scheduled surgeries and routine checkups return to normal.

"Patients also have to take COVID-19 tests and wait for the result before being admitted for surgery," said an official from Seoul Samsung Medical Center, adding that it is expected to take considerable time before hospital service normalizes completely.

However, some trainee doctors at general hospitals in other parts of the country have continued their collective action, calling for further measures to protect medical students who have not taken a state medical licensing exam held earlier in the day.

But health authorities said they will not allow medical students to retake the exam as they have refused the opportunity once in the past.

The exam was held as scheduled after most medical students said they will not take it in protest over the agreement. A total of 446 out of 3,172 exam applicants, or 14 percent, will take the exam, according to the ministry.

A day earlier, an emergency committee under the Korean Intern and Resident Association (KIRA) representing the young doctors said they will return to work.

However, they further warned they can take tougher collective action if the government does not come up with further measures within two weeks to support medical students who did not apply for the test.

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.

On Friday, the country's largest doctors' association, the Korean Medical Association (KMA), agreed with the ruling party to end their nationwide strike after the government backed down and promised to put the medical reform plans on hold in a joint effort for the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Friday's deal raised hopes 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.


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