Manpower shortage at trauma centers··· lack of social awareness and interest
Manpower shortage at trauma centers··· lack of social awareness and interest
  • 김정아
  • 승인 2023.01.17 11:45
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The Air Ambulance is based at Daejeon Eulji Medical Center Photo: Daejeon Eulji Medical Center
The Air Ambulance is based at Daejeon Eulji Medical Center Photo: Daejeon Eulji Medical Center

"We treat all severe trauma patients within the golden hour." This is the core and indispensable value put forward by regional trauma centers. However, following reports claiming that 50% of trauma patients in Korea were not treated within the golden hour, trauma centers were harshly criticized by the medical community. As a result, the treatment rate of severe trauma patients at trauma centers sharply decreased. In 2018, it was reported that trauma centers treat 28% of severe trauma patients in the local area around the center, but this figure was only 12% at Gachon University Gil Hospital, 16% at Dankook University Hospital, and 17% at Eulji University Hospital, which are all lower than the national average. Why do hospitals in Korea, a country with dozens of university hospitals equipped with advanced medical equipment, well-trained medical staff, and hundreds of hospital beds, fail to treat trauma patients?

Most experts agree that this is caused by a lack of manpower in essential medical fields. However, opinions are divided on why there is a shortage of doctors in these fields. For example, some claim that there is a shortage in the overall the medical workforce itself, while others believe that upcoming doctors tend to avoid essential medical fields due to the significant workloads coupled with the lack of manpower. Others argue that some of the blame should be placed on the lack of government policies for the management of essential medical personnel.

Can the manpower shortage in essential medical fields be solved by significantly increasing the total number of doctors? Currently, the only plan being proposed in Korea to solve this issue centers around 'increasing the total number of doctors,' which is the stance that has been taken for the past 17 years. Ironically, this strategy can end up resulting in the total collapse of the health care system. Instead, the answer lies in 'classification.' In the UK, the National Institute of Health and Clinical Research accurately classifies patients headed to severe trauma centers during the hospital transfer stage. Their guidelines state that it is generally appropriate to go to a severe trauma center only if the patient is classified as severe trauma patient. The UK system also places great importance on network deployment for integrated power management. In contrast, emergency level classifications are insufficient in Korea, which means patients are often transferred to the closest hospitals. increasing the time until the patient receives adequate treatment. Furthermore, there is a significant lack of prior contact and cooperation between hospitals and medical staff when classifying patients.

In addition to increasing the number of doctors and reviewing guidelines, trauma centers need to solve various problems. At the center of these issues is the 'Doctor Helicopter.' This is because the Doctor Helicopter is closely related to the shortage of medical staff as well as the core value of trauma centers: "treating patients within the golden hour." In 2019, the Ajou University Hospital Trauma Center refused to board the Doctor Helicopter due to a lack of manpower and hospital beds and due to safety problems. "Five people are required to operate the Doctor Helicopter, but in reality, there is only one person on board," said Doctor Lee Guk-jong, professor of trauma surgery at Ajou University Hospital. Due to these circumstances, domestic regional trauma centers maintain a 24-hour dispatch system by working with firefighting helicopters belonging to special fire response teams to reach accident sites during hours after sunset when the Doctor Helicopters are not available. Professor Mun Yun-su emphasized the role of the fire department, saying, "most accidents in Daejeon can be sufficiently managed via land transportation and ambulances, so it is necessary to expand the number of firefighting personnel working with regional trauma centers to ensure that land transportation routes are readily available."

However, the biggest hurdle facing trauma centers is a lack of social awareness and interest among the general public. Trauma centers are fighting an unseen war. When Professor Lee Guk-jong made media headlines in 2017, it was an opportunity for the general public to learn about and sympathize with the difficult reality faced by trauma centers. However, what about now? The indifference of  "it doesn't matter if Doctor Helicopters disappear any time soon" and complaints that "Doctor Helicopters are too loud" are rubbing salt into the wounds of Professor Lee Guk-jong and those working in trauma centers who have suffered over the past decade. Currently, the political community is only concerned with increasing the number of doctors, but many questions remain about whether the long-lasting problems of trauma centers can even be slightly resolved. There is no doubt that this is a major issue that Korea needs to solve. However, seeing how Korea seems to be remain unresponsive despite the clear guidelines and examples set by other advanced countries, I hope that the country can look back at how Professor Lee Guk-jong and his trauma center changed Korea through Operation Dawn of Gulf of Aden in 2011.

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