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[Newsmaker] Korea pushes plan to make more doctors

Medical schools to admit over 4,000 more students for next 10 years


Medical schools in Korea will admit more students, lawmakers and government officials said Thursday, lifting the admission cap for the first time since 2006.

According to the blueprint proposed by ruling Democratic Party lawmakers and the chiefs of Health and Education ministries, the fixed limits on the total number of students recruited by medical schools each year will be expanded by 400 or more for 10 years starting in 2022. This translates to a 13.4 percent increase in the current number of yearly accepted students of around 3,000.

“The number of students medical schools can accept will be raised so that more can be deployed in regions where doctors are scarce,” Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo said in the meeting with lawmakers.

In addition to the increase in medical school enrollment, at least nine public hospitals will be built in remote parts of country where access to health care is compromised.

Democratic Party Floor Leader Kim Tae-nyeon said medical student number controls have exacerbated the uneven distribution of health care in rural areas. “Korea’s doctor-to-patient ratio is far below the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s average at 2.4 per 1,000,” he said. “We need more public doctors to respond to health emergencies such as one we’re experiencing right now.”

But the proposal is facing opposition from doctors who say the problem is not a shortage of physicians, but an insufficient system.

“Adding thousands of doctors in an abrupt move will only lead to lower-quality health services,” the Korean Medical Association said in a statement released the same day.

“Korea’s health care woes stem not from short supply of physicians -- but from the system that fails to use existing physicians efficiently. Slots in more stressful specialties are going unfilled due to poor labor practices and less compensation,” it said. “Making medical schools less selective is hardly the right approach.”

The doctors’ group added that the OECD statistics presented by the officials skewed projections. “Population estimates show Korea’s doctors per capita will exceed the OECD average by 2038.”

By Kim Arin (