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(3rd LD) Trainee doctors resume work, yet service normalization to take some time

All News 22:08 September 08, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with doctors' test info in paras 8, 11-13)

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

Most of around 16,000 interns and residents at major general hospitals in the greater Seoul area, such as Seoul Asan Medical Center and Seoul Samsung Medical Center, returned to the hospitals as of 7 a.m., and other young doctors are 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 services, hospital officials said.

They added that it would take at least two weeks and up to one month before scheduled surgeries and routine checkups return to normal, partially due to the Chuseok fall harvest holiday later this month.

"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.

Health authorities said they will not allow medical students to retake the exam, as they have refused it once in the past. The test was postponed from Aug. 31.

The exam was held as scheduled after most medical students said they would not take it in protest over the agreement. A total of 446 out of 3,172 people, or 14 percent, applied for the exam, according to the health ministry. On Tuesday, only six actually took the exam, with organizers fearing that the participation rate may be similarly low for tests to be held up to Nov. 20.

Interns and residents enter Seoul National University Hospital in Seoul on Sept. 8, 2020, after resuming work. (Yonhap)

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.

Related to the test boycott that has been supported by an emergency student federation, an internal poll of Seoul National University Medical School students showed 81 percent of fourth year students saying they are opposed to continued rejection of the test and leaves of absence from studies as acts of protest.

A faculty member at the medical school said that more effort needs to be made to listen to various views, and that only way to resolve lingering tensions is to allow all students to take the state doctors' exam, which will require compromise.

On Tuesday, KIRA said it has formed a new committee representing them, which will further discuss how to deal with the current development. Trainee doctors claim that their views were not properly reflected in an agreement reached between representatives of the doctors and the ruling party.

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.

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.

khj@yna.co.kr
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