Number of doctors per 1,000 inhabitants in South Korea 2000-2020
Shortage of medical staffs
The Korean government officially declared a shortage of several thousand doctors across the nation and recommended the training of an additional 150 doctors every year to make up the shortfall. Furthermore, doctors of traditional Korean medicine are counted among the number of doctors, meaning there are even fewer doctors of modern medical sciences than official figures suggest. Yet there are several factors, such as resistance from doctors, preventing the government from simply increasing the number of medical graduates.
Regional imbalances in the medical environment
Some experts refute the government’s claims that Korea faces a doctor shortage and point towards other factors. For example, Korea has a higher population density than other countries, meaning that the average Korean doctor meets with more patients than an Austrian or Norwegian one would. Indeed, half the population is concentrated in the Seoul Capital Area. Additionally, Koreans see doctors around 19 times a year on average, which is far more frequently than any other OECD nationals. Despite this, Korea spends a lower share of its GDP on medical expenditures than other OECD countries, implying that medical personnel do more work for less financial compensation. Regional disparities where doctors are concentrated in Seoul and other major cities is also an issue. The doctor-to-people ratio in Seoul is higher than the national ratio, and the same as the OECD average. Many argue that a shortage of nurses is a greater concern than an alleged shortage of doctors. While the number of trained nurses is adequate, many leave because of harsh working conditions.