The local law capping the maximum weekly work hours for trainee physicians at 80 hours was effective. A recent survey found that the average weekly working hours of Korean interns and residents were below the legal limit last year.
Precisely, they worked for 77.2 hours on average per week. Based on their maximum work hours, the average came at 85.63 hours.
As the law limits the average weekly work hours for four weeks at 80 hours per week, with the maximum hours per week set at 88 hours, hospitals that force medical residents to work longer are subject to 5 million won ($4,423) penalty.
The Korean Intern Resident Association (KIRA) conducted the poll on the evaluation of 82 training hospitals by interns and residents from Sept. 21 to Oct. 31 last year and released the outcome on Sunday.
A total of 4,900 medical residents working at the 82 hospitals participated in the survey.
Weekly work hours kept below 80, except for 27 hospitals
The average weekly working hours of medical residents stood at 77.2 in 2018, a significant fall from 84.9 hours in 2017.
Those at 27 (33 percent) out of the 82 training hospitals worked over 80 hours per week, and those at the other 55 (67 percent) worked less than 80 hours.
Inje University Ilsan Paik Hospital made trainee doctors work for 94.33 hours per week, the longest among 82 hospitals, followed by VHS Medical Center’s 90.3 hours and Chungnam National University Hospital’s 87.57 hours.
In 2017, Kyungpook National University Hospital recorded the longest work hours, forcing medical residents to work for 109.7 hours per week.
Among the hospitals that complied with the legal work limit, National Center for Mental Health had the shortest work hours -- 45.4 hours per week. Gwangmyeong Sungae Hospital came next with 55.17 hours, and Seoul Metropolitan Government Eunpyeong Hospital with 55.33 hours.
However, most hospitals failed to keep the maximum work hour per week.
The average of the maximum weekly work hour was 85.63 hours, which was above the legal limit of 80 hours. The 80-hour law applies to the average of the sum of four weeks’ work hours.
Inje University Ilsan Paik Hospital recorded the most extended maximum weekly work hours at 105.33, followed by Severance Hospital with 101.82 hours and Chungnam National University Hospital’s 101.64 hours.
Among the 82 hospitals, 64 (78 percent) had medical residents work for more than 80 hours at least for a week. The other 18 (22 percent) kept the maximum work hours below 80 hours.
The maximum weekly work time was the shortest at the National Center for Mental Health (53 hours), just as the average hour of labor was the shortest there.
The average days of consecutive night duties at 82 hospitals were 2.29 days last year, down from 3.34 a year earlier.
“It is encouraging that medical residents’ average hours of labor came in below 80 hours per week. However, there are still many hospitals that do not abide by the Medical Residents Act,” KIRA President Lee Seung-woo said.
The association received complaints that some hospitals banned trainee physicians from logging in the electronic medical record (EMR) system during extra working time to hide their extra work hours.
“We should pay attention to what kind of administrative punishment the government will use on the hospitals that breached the Medical Residents Act,” Lee added.
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