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South Korean court rejects effort to block plan that would boost medical school admissions

FILE - Doctors stage a rally against the government's medical policy in Seoul, South Korea, on March 3, 2024. A South Korean court ruled in favor of the government's plan to drastically boost medical school admissions on Thursday, May 16, 2024, media reports said. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean court ruled in favor of the government’s contentious plan to drastically boost medical school admissions on Thursday.

A standoff between the government and doctors opposed to the plan has shaken the country’s medical system for months. More than 10,000 junior doctors have been on a strike since February in protest.

The Seoul High Court rejected a request for an injunction to block the plan made by striking doctors and other opponents of the plan , which would raise the country’s medical school enrollment quota by 2,000 next year, from the current cap of 3,058.

The doctors were expected to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, the country’s top court.

The striking doctors represent a fraction of all doctors in South Korea, estimated to number between 115,000 and 140,000. But in some major hospitals, they account for about 30% to 40% of doctors, assisting fully qualified doctors and department chiefs during surgeries and other treatments while training. Their walkouts have caused cancellations to numerous surgeries and other treatments at their hospitals.

Officials say the plan is aimed at adding more doctors, because South Korea has one of the world’s fastest-aging populations and its doctor-to-population ratio is among the lowest in the developed world.

Doctors say schools aren’t ready to handle an abrupt increase in students and that it would ultimately undermine the country’s medical services. They say the government plan would also result in doctors performing unnecessary treatments because of greater competition. But critics argue that many doctors are mainly worried that more competition would lower their incomes.

The Associated Press

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