On July 23, 2020, the government announced a controversial medical workforce reform plan. The proposal would see, among other things, a gradual increase in the number of doctors over the next 10 years to address needs in rural communities, the creation of several new public medical schools, the expansion of remote medical services including telemedicine and the extension of the national health insurance to cover to Korean traditional medicine. The plan met with massive opposition from the medical community and strike action quickly ensued. Medical students joined the strike in September and as part of their actions, they withdrew their applications for the medical licensing exam (MLE). When the strike ended, participants tried to reapply, but were told they were too late this year. They had missed the deadline. The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) and medical students complained and asked for the deadline to be extended, but the government refused. I agree with the government decision to deny their late applications. There are three reasons for my opinion. The public does not support the request, their decision to miss the deadline was a choice and their behavior was irresponsible during a pandemic such as Covid-19.
|▲ Professors of medical college apologized to students' strike. (Photo from Hankook Ilbo)|
The Korean Association of Medical Colleges (KAMC) stated in a letter to the government “Students just followed the action of the doctors. If they cannot take MLE, there will be almost 3000 vacancies in the medical system.” In response, the government said their hands were tied by public opinion. “If most of the public were to agree with giving them another chance, we may consider it. But if not, we won’t.” Over a half a million people, around 570,000 Koreans signed a Blue House petition urging the government to deny requests to extend the deadline. Citizens felt betrayed by the striking doctors and interns who were failing to take into consideration how their actions would affect the communities they served during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In addition, there is the problem choice. There is a history of our government extending application deadlines or even exam dates for national tests due to natural disasters. For instance, College Scholastic Ability Test (CSAT) was delayed 1 week after Pohang’s earthquake in 2017, and other national exams were delayed for a few months due to COVID-19. But in these cases, the reasons for the delay were beyond the control of the applicants. The Korean Medical Student Association’s (KMSA) posted on their Facebook page that they were aware of the risks when they took the action. According to their own survey, almost 91.7% of examinees refused to take the exam and 81.5% of respondents agreed with the action of cancelling their MLE applications. The government delayed the deadline for the exam twice, but still the student doctors refused to reapply on time. The decision to deny their late applications is a result of choices they made and not anything beyond their control, so no late applications should be accepted.
|▲ A medical specialist is doing a one-man demonstration to defend government's policy. (Photo from Yonhap News)|
Finally, the decision by student doctors to put the lives of our citizens at risk, through their strike actions during a pandemic, was a betrayal of their role in the community as care providers. When the strike began, Koreans criticized doctors for holding the well-being of the public hostage in order to protect their own vested interests. The medical system is responsible for our lives and this year, many people died due to the Corona virus. Strike action by the medical community during the pandemic made it harder to provide much needed care for patients. It also contributed to the anxiety of the nation as people worried if they would get the treatment they needed if they came down with the highly contagious virus. It was irresponsible and as a result, they should not be rewarded with special treatment.
A strike must be accompanied by responsibility. Since physicians are handling the lives of patients, strike action in this field should be taken more seriously than in any other. Those who participate must take responsibility for their actions and not expect any special treatment in return. Overall, participants had a choice and should pay the price for their actions like any mature adult. Their request is not supported by the public who felt betrayed by this irresponsible behavior during a pandemic. For these reasons, I believe giving them an application extension is wholly unjustifiable.