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Is there a doctor in the house?

Medical staff protest against the government's judicial overhaul outside the court in Tel Aviv, during a two hours strike in hospitals around Israel, July 19, 2023. (Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Pretty soon, this might be the collective question that Israeli citizens will be asking as the possibility of a mass exodus of doctors leaving the Promised Land could actually take place.

A very alarming article highlights the disturbing trend which is beginning to deeply concern the 9.5 million people who live in the Jewish homeland, a place that, already, had a serious lack of doctors, well before the judicial reform push began.

The article begins by recounting the story of one female doctor who recently requested information on WhatsApp concerning the possibility of relocating abroad. That doctor is said to have joined another 3,000 of her peers, which comprises a whopping 10% of physicians in the Israeli workforce. In fact, the number has grown so quickly, that the platform had to be moved to Telegram to continue to accommodate others who also wanted to join in the discussions.

The one common denominator, for all these doctors, is the implication of what a judicial overhaul could mean for them as well as the country. While all of this inquiry is at an initial fact-gathering stage, many believe that there is a potential of a large enough percentage, among those in the group, who, if they were to leave, would present the country with a tremendous lack of trained medical personnel – a sure recipe for disaster.

As many as two-thirds of these physicians have studied abroad because there are limited accommodations to do so in Israel. Once they return to their country of origin and gain a valued reputation, these doctors are in high demand abroad where they are offered many incentives, better pay and a less stressful workday.  

In fact, now that the nationwide crisis has arisen, countries are taking advantage of the opportunity to conduct Webinars to entice these skilled doctors to relocate. One such option was recently targeted by New Zealand. While the offers are plentiful and attractive, at least one professor in the health sector says that doctors need to stay and fight for what they believe in, despite his sympathy for their feelings that they are losing their basic rights and values. 

Professor Hagai Levine, Chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, squarely places the blame on the government which he claims has brought on this chaos and who are, “continuing their recklessness in dismantling the state.” He warns that “if the government does not stop, the healthcare system will be halted.” 

Add to this crisis that now that the Reasonableness Clause has been defeated, any legal claims, brought forward by the medical sector on behalf of physicians, are no longer able to be heard or discussed if certain standards of unreasonableness are being asserted. In other words, there is no longer an avenue in which to pursue unjust inequities, something which is causing doctors even more trepidation at what the future could hold for their working conditions, ethics and other issues which affect their profession. 

These matters encompass a wide range of problems – everything from disciplinary offenses to department closures, camera installations, budgetary concerns, vaccines, pay issues, doctor suspensions as well as exam exemptions. That list contains just a few examples of a much wider range of subjects that are much more comprehensive.

One doctor talked about the very comfortable conditions he worked under in the United States. In fact, he mentioned there was so much flexibility, that even religious doctors were able to take off extra time in order to study Torah. That same doctor lamented that Israel is not listening to the plight of doctors in their own country, so the feeling translates into much frustration and the sense of not having a voice.

Prof. Jonathan Halevy, president of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, is dumbfounded as to why it is that some members of the Likud party, whom he knows “oppose the actions and statements of the extreme members of the coalition, haven’t opposed the dangers they have brought to the nation.”

He, like many others, believes that what is happening could easily lead to a catastrophe in the country, although he’s reluctant to admit that there will, indeed, be a massive exodus of doctors. 

Yet another professor stated that the reputation we have enjoyed, as it relates to our high standard of medical services, could greatly suffer as a result of the political interference which is being injected into the profession. 

Things have gotten so bad that just a few days ago, an online emergency meeting took place where senior Israeli doctors and officials took part. It was during that time that a heartfelt plea was made by the Health Ministry’s Dir.-Gen.l Moshe Bar Siman Tov for doctors to stay put and “continue with the commitment towards the medical system and the Israeli public.”

At the meeting, one doctor related her personal story of having enjoyed working abroad, but the knowledge, that it would never be her country, caused her to return along with her family. Proud to be an Israeli, she has taken part in the demonstrations which have only served to strengthen her resolve that Israel has so many good people as well as a superior medical system driven by compassion. No doubt, those feelings have caused her to decide she must fight for the country which she loves. 

Another poignant comment came from Dr. Efrat Baron-Harlev, director-general of Schneider Children’s Medical Center who said, “The system in which we work is actually the only system in Israel, where it goes without saying, that we are all together as caregivers and patients. We have to find ways to expand the system. We need all of you.”

There is no question that the establishment of a chat group for worried doctors who feel that their future is in peril in Israel is a vexing development that is no less urgent than the disturbing economic effects or deep concern over the potential loss of basic rights and freedoms of citizens. Because, as the saying goes, “Without your health, you don’t have anything.”

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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