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Number of doctors per 1,000 inhabitants in South Korea 2000-2018

In South Korea in 2018, there were approximately 2.39 doctors for every 1,000 Koreans. This was a slight increase compared to the preceding year, and this ratio has increased steadily since 2000, exception for a slight drop in 2004. However, Korea still has few doctors relative to its population. The OECD average was 3.3 doctors per 1,000 people, and among the full OECD member countries, only Turkey had a lower ratio of 1.9. According to OECD data, only Turkey and the accession candidate Colombia and the key partners, the People's Republic of China, South Africa, and India have ratios lower than Korea's. At the other end of the spectrum is Austria with 5.2 doctors per 1,000 people, followed by Norway with 4.8 and Lithuania with 4.6.

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 the official figures suggest. Yet several factors, such as resistance from doctors, prevent 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 would, for example. Indeed, half the population is concentrated in the Seoul Capital Area and Koreans see doctors over 20 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, not because too few are being trained but because many leave because of harsh working conditions, is a greater concern than an alleged shortage of doctors.

Number of doctors in South Korea from 2000 to 2018

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Release date

September 2020


South Korea

Survey time period

2000 to 2018

Supplementary notes

Date given here is the day of data access.

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Statistics on "Health care in South Korea"

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