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(LEAD) Medical students continue collective leave of absence to protest medical reform

All News 22:17 September 11, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details, joint statement by senior doctors in paras 4-7)

SEOUL, Sept. 11 (Yonhap) -- Medical school students across the country will continue their leave of absence in protest against a new medical reform plan, their representative said Friday.

The Korean Medical Student Association said its members have decided not to return to school after putting the issue to a vote, even after an agreement between doctors and the government to end a weekslong nationwide strike.

Medical students have been joining the walkout, and balked at withdrawing their collective action.

This photo, taken on Sept. 10, 2020, shows a medical student entering a building in Seoul to take the state medical licensing exam. (Yonhap)

Doctors and the government have been at odds over whether to give medical students another opportunity to take the state medical licensing exam. Doctors said students must be allowed to take the exame even if they did not register before the deadline, while the government has rejected such a step.

Related to the standoff, senior doctors representing the Korean Hospital Association, private and public university hospital groups, and Korean Council of Teaching Hospital, issued a joint statement asking students to return to their studies and for the government to allow them to take the doctors' exams.

"If around 90 percent of medical students fail to take the test this year, this will lead to serious shortages in the number of military doctors and those assigned to public health centers all across the country several years down the line," they warned. They said this development can leave a dangerous hole in public health services and that the only way to resolve this matter is through compromise.

Despite this unresolved issue, most trainee doctors, such as interns and residents, at general hospitals ended their collective action and returned to work earlier this week, following an agreement with the government to put the reform plan on hold.

On Sept. 4, the KMA agreed with the ruling party to end its nationwide strike after the government backed down and promised to put the medical reform plan on hold in a joint effort to overcome the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Some 160,000 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.

KMA members and fellow doctors have also joined the collective action to support the junior doctors.

khj@yna.co.kr
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