(February 6, 2019 / JNS)
In recent years, Israel has faced a shortage of doctors who trained here. More than half of the new doctors in Israel study abroad, in institutions that are not under government supervision, sometimes in countries where the academic level is low and clinical training is insufficient. That causes a lack of control over the quality of medical personnel in Israel.
To increase the number of doctors who train here, the Health Ministry changed its policy and now allows only graduates of academic institutions in OECD nations or schools accredited by the World Federation for Medical Education to take the Israeli medical boards. The ministry is also working to reduce the number of Israeli medical students abroad and wants to bring them back to Israel.
A report prepared by a team charged with increasing the number of students studying medicine in Israel (appointed by the Health Ministry and the Council for Higher Education) lists a number of immediate solutions that will increase the number of doctors training in Israel. The main one is to open a medical school at Ariel University, which would initially add 70 new doctors to the health system every year. The report was signed by Dr. Eran Halpern, director of Rabin Medical Center and chairman of the Hospital Directors Association, and Professor Shimon Marom, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Institute of Technology.
It would be natural to think that everyone would now pitch in to help open the new medical faculty and ensure its success for the sake of the citizens of Israel. But instead, certain people in academia and the medical establishment are working to torpedo the new medical school. Some objected to it even before a vote on its establishment was held out of concern that it would adversely affect the existing medical schools—and therefore were in a conflict of interest from the outset—and found it difficult to welcome the news that a new faculty of medicine would be opening at Ariel.
Those who are part of the national effort to increase the number of Israelis studying medicine realize that the Ariel University medical school should open its doors this October, a move that will have an effect four years later. But irrelevant concerns, which were background noise when the country’s other medical schools opened, are making it difficult to fulfill the vision in which those who hold them believe.
I personally encountered similar resistance a decade ago when, as the Israel Defense Forces’ chief medical officer, I was working to launch the military medical school track at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Despite the fact that the shortage of physicians in the IDF was at its height and we were having a hard time attracting candidates to the program which pays for medication training directly after students finish high school in exchange for them serving a few extra years as IDF doctors, there were people who still vigorously objected to the idea. Happily, we overcame their protests and established an excellent program, which is now yielding fruit and adding a few dozen more doctors who received high-level training in Israel.
When taking the Hippocratic Oath, a doctor pledges to try to save lives, do no harm and behave ethically. I want to believe that everyone involved in the Israeli health system understands that providing a speedy answer to the shortage of good doctors means saving lives and refraining from finding an immediate solution means harming patients. It’s time to cooperate, not to splinter and obstruct, which only perpetuates the problem.
I am calling on my colleagues to put aside any consideration that does not put patients first, rethink their approach and join the effort to help a new medical school at Ariel succeed. It will strengthen the Israeli health-care system by adding more outstanding doctors who studied and trained in Israel.
Knesset member Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) is a senior administrator at Ariel University and deputy CEO of the Maccabi health- management organization.