Will rash of new medical schools solve Israel's doctor shortage?

Everyone wants a medical school  credit: Tali Bogdanovsky/Shutterstock
Everyone wants a medical school credit: Tali Bogdanovsky/Shutterstock

Four new medical schools are planned in the coming years, but the government is not even aiming to reach the OECD average of doctors per thousand population.

In recent years, Israel’s academic institutions have been in a rush to open medical schools. Within the past few months, the University of Haifa and the Weizmann Institute have announced that they will open schools, joining Ariel University, which opened a medical school in 2019, and Bar-Ilan University, which did so a few years earlier, in 2012, in Safed (Zefat). Two further initiatives await approval from The Council for Higher Education: a medical school at Reichman University in collaboration with Maccabi Healthcare Services, and an international medical school in Eilat.

The target: 2,000 more doctors annually

The reason that more and more medical schools are being founded now is, first of all, Israel’s severe shortage of doctors. The number of doctors qualifying from medical schools in Israel is the lowest among the OECD countries.

For years, the medical system managed to overcome that fact thanks to immigrant doctors, mainly from the countries of the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, and to doctors trained overseas.

In the coming years, however, the shortage is expected to worsen considerably, both because many doctors are due to retire, and because the Yatziv reforms (spearheaded by Professor Shaul Yatziv) have limited the number of institutions abroad at which medical students can obtain qualifications recognized in Israel, in a bid to maintain standards in Israel’s health system.

Unless there is a change in the training of medical students, in 2035 Israel will have only 2.9 doctors per thousand people, which compares with an OECD average of 3.4.

Israel is not even aiming to reach the OECD average. The goal is 3.1 doctors per thousand people, and to reach it the country needs to add 2,000 doctors annually. Under the Yatziv reform, at least 1,400 have to come from the Israeli system, which currently produces 1,000-1,100 doctors annually.

Later, the intention is to expand further the number of doctors training within the Israeli education and health systems, so that they will not have to travel abroad, even to institutions that meet the criteria. Keeping students in Israel has a further advantage, which is that it will reduce the number of students lost to careers abroad.

A survey carried out a month ago by the Medical Doctor group headed by Dr. Moshe Cohen (who seeks to set up an international medical school in Eilat) found that 59% of these doctors said that they were considering a career in Europe or the US.

How many medical schools does Israel need?

How many medical schools are required in Israel to train the additional students? It depends whom you ask. The existing institutions claim that they could absorb all of the additional demand if they were only allowed to do so, and that no new medical schools are required at all.

The planned new medical schools are designed to take in 80-100 students a year each, which means that if the existing schools are not expanded, there is room for three to four new ones in the near future.

The Gamzu committee, headed by Prof. Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv, recommended in its recently published report that the capacity of the existing medical schools should be expanded, and that one new school, or branches of the existing schools, should be considered, with an emphasis on locations in the periphery of the country.

The report states that the pre-clinical infrastructure (laboratories) at the medical schools is crowded, so that there is justification for setting up more medical schools rather than loading more students onto the same infrastructure.

Nevertheless, there are several obstacles to setting up additional medical schools, such as the NIS 75,000 annual subsidy required per student at the public medical schools, and finding the teaching staff for the medical school itself and room for clinical training in the hospitals. There is a fear that the new medical schools will deprive the existing schools of manpower and of clinical fields. The new plan compiled by the Gamzu committee proposes a solution to the last obstacle at least. It suggest that more clinical fields can be created by matching each hospital to one main medical school, adding teaching hours in the afternoons, expanding teaching groups, training at the health funds as well, and more. The report states that this need not be a constraint.

Besides the general shortage of doctors, there are specific shortages in certain disciplines and in outlying communities. The national plan for training medical students will need to prioritize institutions that take these issues into account, and give incentives to students who choose certain disciplines and specialties.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on June 19, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Everyone wants a medical school  credit: Tali Bogdanovsky/Shutterstock
Everyone wants a medical school credit: Tali Bogdanovsky/Shutterstock
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