There is no retirement age for medical doctor’s licenses, but public hospitals including city-run hospitals have a retirement age for doctors. Six out of some 40 medical doctors at a city-run hospital in the Seoul metropolitan region are people in their late 60s and 70s, way above the hospital’s official retirement age of 60. As city-run hospitals could not hire younger doctors, the medical center continues hiring doctors at advanced ages. “Since they are old, they cannot take overnight shifts and find it physically challenging to treat patients, but we have no choice because it is difficult to hire younger doctors,” an official at the hospital said.
Amid severe supply shortages of doctors, public medical institutions are reportedly facing more difficulties recruiting doctors. According to a report from the health and welfare ministry released by Rep. Seo Jung-sook of People’s Power Party, a member of the parliamentary Health and Welfare Committee, 24 of 35 provincial medical centers (69 percent as of January 2023), which are public hospitals, have failed to hire all of the doctors they need. They posted an average vacancy ratio of about 18 percent. The vacancies at the Seongnam City Medical Center amount to 34.3 percent. It means those medical centers have failed to hire one in five doctors that they need for sustainable operations.
For this reason, public medical centers often hire medical doctors who have passed the official retirement age to prevent a vacuum in medical service as part of their self-help efforts. Some hospitals deny accepting patients or fails to perform required surgical operations. Watchers say there is more concern about the lack of capabilities to provide proper healthcare stemming from a lack of younger doctors than the positive effects of older doctors’ strong experiences and know-how.
“Our hospital wishes to hire younger doctors even if we pay 10 million won (about 7,700 U.S. dollars) to 20 million won (15,400 dollars) extra per year, but (younger) doctors are hard to find,” said Jeong Il-yong, president of the Gyeonggi Provincial Medical Center.