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S. Korea to let doctors with foreign licenses practice

May 8, 2024 - 17:53 By Park Jun-hee
A patient sits down at a hospital waiting chair (Yonhap)

The Health Ministry said Wednesday that it would allow those holding foreign medical licenses to practice medicine in South Korea to help cope with a health care crisis exacerbated by a walkout by junior doctors.

The ministry said it would make revisions to the enforcement regulation of the Medical Service Act, adding “medical support” to the list of tasks that foreign medical license holders can perform to address the shortage of medical personnel in the event of a medical disaster that could harm the lives and health of the public.

Under the revised act, those with medical licenses from foreign countries will be allowed to provide medical services upon the approval of the Health Minister.

The surprise announcement comes as junior doctors’ walkout enters its 12th week, and some medical professors, who double as senior doctors at major hospitals, are resigning or taking weekly breaks in a show of protest against the government’s decision to add more slots in the medical school admissions quota starting next year.

The ministry said it made the prior legislative notice on this day to collect opinions until May 20.

Currently, Article 18 of the Medical Service Act stipulates that a person who has graduated from a foreign school and has been licensed by a competent foreign authority must stay in Korea for a certain time to perform medical practices with the approval of the Health Minister.

Those include exchange professor’s work as part of educational or technical cooperation with foreign countries, work for educational research projects and medical service work as international medical volunteer groups.

The ministry, however, declined to comment on the scope of medical practices foreign license holders could perform when asked for further details on the plan but said they would be allowed to provide services "deemed necessary" by the Health Minister during the crisis.

It also declined to provide information on when the scheme would possibly make its start and to which medical institutions they would be dispatched during a crisis, explaining that it would announce specifics later on.

The South Korean government elevated the country’s health care crisis level to “serious” on Feb. 23 at 8 a.m. for the first time uring intern and resident doctors’ departure. The highest level of seriousness in the four-tier warning system had previously been issued during the COVID-19 pandemic over a spike in confirmed cases.

Military surgeons and public health doctors have been deployed to fill in the medical gaps as doctors are showing little signs of return.