Doctors criticize the government for closing American medical schools in Israel

Head of a state-backed think tank tasked with finding ways to get Israel to train more doctors He condemned the government’s recent decision to close three medical colleges Hosting foreign students to accommodate more local citizensand argues that the controversial and costly procedure is unnecessary.

Earlier this month, the Council on Higher Education announced that it would close US medical programs in Tel Aviv UniversityThe Ben-Gurion University The Technion replaced Israelis to replace the 130 foreign students studying there, in light of the country’s growing shortage of doctors.

But on Wednesday the teacher Rafael Bayarwho led the council’s special committee to investigate ways to increase the number of Israeli medical students, told The Times of Israel that there are other ways to reach the goal.

“[El comité] Provide a detailed plan on how to accept an additional 400 medical students for the four-year programs. There was no need to close foreign programs to accept these 400 [estudiantes] Pierre, who also recently wrote a letter to the board criticizing the decision to close the programmes, said.

The State of Israel is already suffering from a shortage of doctorsEspecially in the remote areas of the country, the situation is expected to get worse in the coming years given the aging Israeli population, which requires more medical attention, as well as a wave of doctors who will be retiring.

Most doctors in Israel are forced to study abroad due to the severe shortage of places available in Israeli medical schools.

One major obstacle is the expansion of so-called “clinical spaces,” which are places in hospitals and laboratories where medical students gain hands-on experience.

American programs allow foreigners to study in Israel, but they obtain American degrees and reside in the United States. They have long been seen as a boon to the Israeli medical system, bringing in large amounts of tuition – foreign students pay 10 times more than Israelis – as well as increasing Israel’s academic reputation internationally. internationally and the establishment of an informal network of physicians in the United States with close ties to Israel.

Pierre, former director of the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa and former dean of the Technion’s Faculty of Medicine, emphasized that the letter addressed to the council represented his personal opinion and not that of the committee.

Although he confirmed that he had sent the letter to the council, he declined to provide a copy of it, considering that the full contents were “intended for the council and professional officials”.

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A spokeswoman for the council said she was not immediately aware of the letter but rejected Pierre’s opposition. He highlighted the magnitude of the problem facing the Israeli health system and the existing obstacles that make it difficult to radically increase the number of medical students.

It’s easy to cast characters like 400 extra places, but there are practical considerationsthe spokeswoman said. “When a decision is made, there will be people who disagree with it.”

The 2017 state comptroller’s report on Israeli medical schools also found that the shortage could be addressed in other ways, but the lack of proper communication between the council and the Ministry of Health prevented this.

The observer wrote: “There are other relatively simple solutions to adding clinical spaces in hospitals that have not been considered, but a lack of comprehensive and systemic thinking prevents their addition.”

Pierre is not the only medical official to oppose the decision to close US programs.

the teacher Arnon AvekThe acting director of Sheba Medical Center and the former director general of the Ministry of Health criticized the move as “unnecessary and miserable.”

“Yes, Israel needs to train its doctors, and the current situation, where only 40% of doctors are licensed in Israel and most of them study abroad, is unreasonable and unreasonable,” he told The Times of Israel.

“But I don’t see any reason to close the American programs,” said Afek, who previously headed the US program at Tel Aviv University.

The then Director-General of the Ministry of Health, Professor Arnon Afek, speaks during a press conference announcing the new mental health reform introduced by the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem on July 1, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“My heart really hurts,” he said. “It is very difficult to build something and very easy to destroy.”

Afek, who has been researching and writing about Israel’s physician shortage in academic journals for more than a decade, said Israel needs to add about 800 new medical students each year to overcome the looming shortage. The goal is feasible, he said, but only if the government allocates funds to tackle the problem.

Claims about a lack of clinical space are meaningless. it has no meaning. They didn’t even ask hospital administrators about this’, he said. “I tell them there is absolutely no problem, positively, in doing so. Don’t get me wrong, it will require an investment of resources, but like any investment, it is an investment in the country. It’s an investment in our ability to treat our grandparents and our children.”

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Afek mainly supports the opening of new medical schools in Israel. He is currently leading efforts to establish an institute at Reichsmann University of Herzliya, formerly known as the Interdisciplinary Center.

A spokesman for the Higher Education Council insisted There was no other choice but to close US programs to increase the number of Israeli medical students as of fall 2023because all the alternatives were either too expensive or too complicated to implement.

Asked how the government then plans to add hundreds of new places needed to address the shortage, the spokesperson said the matter is still under consideration.

Doctors criticize the government for closing American medical schools in Israel
Graduates of the American School of Medicine at the Technion pose for a photo after receiving their white coats in 2021 (the Technion)

“The following academic year, we increased the number of places by 70 seats. The following year, [al cerrar los programas estadounidenses] We added another 130. I don’t know what will happen next year. “They are working on it,” he said.

Afek also questioned why the council had not at least attempted some sort of temporary measure to entice students from US citizenship-entitled programs to remain in Israel after graduation and thus increase the number of doctors in Israel.

In fact, although a large number of former students have returned to Israel – including this reporter’s son-in-law – the vast majority of them are settling in the United States.

However, the decision to return to the United States is usually an economic one. Burdened with hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, even graduates planning to eventually move to Israel first seek more lucrative jobs in the United States, where doctors’ salaries are much higher than they are in Israel.

The government plans to compensate universities that have to forgo the high tuition fees they can charge foreign students.. But Afek said that money could have been offered to students in the US program in return for a commitment to practice medicine in Israel for a certain number of years.

“Why not offer debt relief instead? Many of them want to stay in Israel.

The council spokesman dismissed this solution as unreasonable, believing that not enough foreign students would accept the offer.

Why form a committee?

Avik was also angry at the fact that the council’s decision, which was taken jointly with the ministries of health and education, is not in line with the recommendations of the Pierre commission.

“Why create a committee if you’re going to do what you want anyway?” he asked. “They didn’t consult anyone, they didn’t ask anyone, they just went ahead and did it“.

A council spokeswoman said she could not comment on why the committee’s recommendations had not been followed and referred The Times of Israel to the Education Ministry.

Education Minister Yifat Shasha Biton did not respond at the time of publication.

Afek, who served as director-general of the Health Ministry from 2014 to 2015, described closing US programs in favor of Israeli students as not just a “bandage on a gunshot wound” but had a significant cost.

“This is a drop in the sea that will only cause harm: to Israel’s image, to the reputation of Israeli universities, to the relationship with the diaspora, and to our ability to send doctors for training abroad,” he said.

US programs, the oldest of which have been in operation for 46 years, have graduated thousands of doctors over the years.Many of them now work in the best American hospitals and clinics.

“These graduates are getting key positions in American hospitals,” Afek said.

According to Afek, these links now make it easier for Israel to send its doctors to do grants at these centers to improve their professional skills and thus raise the level of healthcare in Israel.

He said, “So we want to send our doctors to the United States, but we refuse to train American doctors here in Israel?”

Afek raised alarm bells that closing the programs would harm Israel’s relations with American Jews. Although the programs are open to participants of any religion, most students in Israel are Jewish.

However, this measure had the support of the Minister of Expatriate Affairs, Nachman Shay.

He told The Times of Israel that the closure “will increase the number of places available to Israeli citizens in medical schools, rather than giving them the option to study abroad and possibly not return home.”

Afek rejected Shay’s view, arguing that foreign and Israeli students did not need to compete. Keeping US programs open and allowing more Israeli students to study medicine are not mutually exclusive.

Times of Israel

Aileen Morales

"Beer nerd. Food fanatic. Alcohol scholar. Tv practitioner. Writer. Troublemaker. Falls down a lot."

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