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Rift grows within medical circle over expansion plan

16 medical schools resume classes, but students show little sign of return

April 9, 2024 - 14:48 By Park Jun-hee
A beam projector is turned on inside an empty classroom at a medical school in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The medical community appears to be facing a rift over coming up with a unified proposal for the expansion plan a day after the government requested it, as it seeks a breakthrough in the prolonged medical standoff through dialogue.

Lim Hyun-taek, the newly appointed president of the Korean Medical Association -- the largest coalition of doctors’ groups here, with some 140,000 members -- demanded Kim Taek-woo, the chair of the KMA’s emergency response committee, step down Tuesday. Lim claimed that the committee’s decisions and announcements do not reflect the voices of the medical field, causing serious inner turmoil.

“The situation is becoming more intense. In response to the demands of 140,000 KMA members and medical students, (I) request for such to clear confusion,” Lim said in a statement.

The remarks come after Kim Sung-geun, head of the KMA emergency committee’s public relations council, said Sunday that the council plans to garner the opinions of the medical community so that it could raise its voices through a single channel.

Kim also said the committee would hold a joint press briefing with trainee doctors, medical students and professors after the April 10 general election to convey their thoughts on the government’s plan to increase the number of admitted medical school students by 2,000 per year starting next year.

However, Park Dan, the chief of the Korean Intern Resident Association, refuted the comment, saying the emergency and he “didn’t see eye to eye” on the issue.

“I’ve constantly been talking to the KMA’s emergency committee chair, Kim Taek-work, and Kim Chang-soo, head of the Medical Professors Association of Korea, but (I’ve never) agreed on holding a joint briefing,” Park wrote on his social media late Monday, laying bare the growing divide.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education said Tuesday that 16 out of 40 medical schools have resumed classes as of Monday. Some 23 medical schools are gearing up to open their classrooms to students by this month, while the remaining one is also making efforts for normalization, it added.

The ministry did not provide the exact number of the students who had returned to class.

Most schools are offering non-face-to-face lectures, according to Vice Education Minister Oh Seok-hwan. Oh explained that the decision was made considering the conditions of the learning environment and students’ circumstances. He also said that online lectures do not necessarily lower the quality of medical education, urging students to swiftly return to where they belong.

Asked if students could face grade retention en masse if they refuse to return, Oh noted that the ministry “isn’t assuming such a situation,” declining to comment further.

Despite the efforts to bring students back, there is little sign of actual movement from them. Instead, each school’s emergency response committee wrote on its social media accounts that students would engage in community service while taking time off from their studies.