Smaller towns in South Korea struggle with a shortage of doctors

Smaller towns in South Korea struggle with a shortage of doctors
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As per the reports, the hospitals in the small cities of South Korea are grappling with a pronounced shortage of physicians. This problem has been further intensified by an ongoing nationwide strike of trainee doctors, which is now in its third month. Doctors are protesting against the proposed measures to address the shortage of doctors by increasing medical school admissions. While its capital, Seoul, boasts about the prestigious medical facilities, the shortage of doctors in smaller urban centers is anticipated to worsen as the population aging accelerates, alongside its plummeting birthrates.

Cho Seung-Yeon, director of the Incheon Medical Center in the port city, has highlighted the severity of the issue. He noted the closure of the artificial kidney room for nearly two years due to the unavailability of qualified medical personnel—a challenge reflective of a broader national trend. Government initiatives to increase enrollment in medical school next year are encountering resistance from trainee doctors and certain medical factions who lack confidence in its potential to facilitate suboptimal working conditions. 

South Korea has a ratio of 2.6 doctors per 1,000 individuals, ranking among the lowest across developed nations, as per the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Yoo Byung-Seon, a patient at the Incheon Hospital, expressed hopes for a surge in the physician workforce in the rapidly aging demographic of the nation.

To address this issue, the Hospital’s cardiology department resorted to leveraging visiting doctors from a neighboring university hospital. 

The Interns and resident doctors who have been on strike since late February cite the problems they face, such as low pay and heavy workloads. They are urging the government to take action before more physicians arrive. Cho acknowledges the need to change policy to attract doctors to underserved areas. Disparities in medical care between Seoul and elsewhere are evident, with Incheon having fewer doctors and higher avoidable deaths. Yoon Geum-ja, an 82-year-old patient, expressed her worries about the future doctor availability.

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