South Korea Moves to Suspend Licenses of Thousands of Protesting Doctors

The South Korean government on Monday said that it was moving to suspend the licenses of thousands of doctors who walked off the job nearly two weeks ago, threatening to escalate a dispute that has shaken the nation’s health care system.

The announcement came after thousands of physicians, nurses and medical professionals took to the streets on Sunday, rallying with banners that read: “Doctors are not criminals!

For more than a month, young doctors have been in a high-stakes dispute with the government over the future of health care in the country. Nearly 10,000 interns and residents, about a tenth of all doctors in the nation, have walked off the job, with most ignoring a Thursday deadline to return to work. On Monday, the government said it would begin to suspend the licenses of around 7,000 of those doctors.

But two weeks after the walkout, it remains unclear how the disagreement will be resolved.

“Why would we want to go back after the government has treated us like the bad guys and has not addressed our demands?” said Lee Haeju, 32, who until recently was a resident at Seoul National University Bundang Hospital.

Dr. Lee — who said that she was so sleep deprived during her first year of residency that she felt like she operated on a 48-hour cycle instead of 24 — and her cohort have long complained about the pressures they face.

They say some of them do not even make minimum wage, their work conditions are Dickensian and that they are overburdened by complaints from litigation-happy patients. The authorities, they say, have long ignored systemic issues that made specializations like dermatology and cosmetic surgery more lucrative than essential services like emergency care.

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