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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Sept. 10)

All News 07:07 September 10, 2020

Refusing medical exam
Students should try to find negotiated solution

The Korea Medical License Examination was held Tuesday, after being postponed due to a strike by doctors and trainee doctors. But only 446, or 14 percent, of the 3,172 eligible medical students took the exam. The remainder boycotted the test, calling for the government to withdraw its plan to increase the medical student quota and create a public medical college.

A survey of students from 40 medical college nationwide found that 81 percent would refuse to take the examination and also continue collective action to protest the government plan. However, the authorities reaffirmed that it would not provide the protesting students with another chance to take the exam, raising concerns about a possible shortage of interns at major hospitals.

The government has agreed to suspend ― not scrap ― its plan to nurture more medical professionals in return for doctors' promise to return to work. The two sides also agreed to form a bilateral consultation body to start discussing the issue. The agreement came after the government and the ruling party committed to reviewing the matter from ground zero. But the medical students keep asking the government to give up the plan.

Yet students are under growing criticism for their "selfish" stance. Medical professors who once supported the students' protest began to ask them to come back to class. The students should have stopped their collective action when the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korean Medial Association (KMA) reached their agreement.

The Korean Interns and Residents Association (KIRA) issued a statement threatening to take tougher action including a walkout if students refusing to take the examination were subject to "disadvantages" due to their collective action. Their stance is hard to understand given that many patients have gone without sufficient healthcare services owing to their walkout.

The medical students should pay heed to the fact that more than 460,000 people signed an online petition against them on the Cheong Wa Dae website. The petitioners opposed any possible measures to give the protesting students another shot at the exam. The government should not give in to the disgruntled students.

Against this backdrop, it is not desirable for lawmakers to make statements that aggravate the situation. For instance, Rep. Kim Sung-ju of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea stressed the need to raise the medical student quota and set up a public medical college.

His statement is improper as it runs counter to the agreement between the government and the KMA. Such a reckless remark will only add fuel to the conflict. Kim wields considerable influence on the issue as he represents the ruling party on the National Assembly Health and Welfare Committee.

The government should be cautious in offering the medical students another chance to take the exam as it could trigger controversy over fairness. It can also create a bad precedent that medical doctors can achieve what they want by means of collective action, even in violation of the law. The medical students should back off their hardline stance, as the government made concessions on key issues. And they need to seek compromise through dialogue.

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