Israel is reducing training periods for medical students in an effort to address a “serious” shortage of doctors

The government will speed up the process for medical school graduates to begin practicing medicine, in a move expected to ease the national shortage of doctors.

Currently, Israel requires all medical students to practice under the close supervision of another physician before being approved to practice.

Unlike in the US, where training takes place as part of a medical student’s residency—where new doctors become increasingly independent—in Israel, students must first complete an internship before they can be appointed as residents, which limits the contribution they can make to the hospital.

Health Minister Aryeh Deri announced that Israel will move toward the American system, and new doctors will be able to start residency after only six months as interns.

As residents, they can work more independently and take on more hospital workload, while training in their chosen specialty, such as pediatrics, surgery, or obstetrics and gynecology.

Medical schools and hospitals applauded the decision.

The move will improve staffing and make a huge difference to a health system that is “currently facing an acute shortage of doctors,” Prof. Haim Botterman, acting dean of the Bar-Ilan University School of Medicine, told The Times of Israel.

File: Medical interns from Ben Gurion University. (Danny Machlis / Ben Gurion University)

He added that the details of the plan, which will increase the variety and intensity of hospital experiences during the training and residency period, will lead to doctors with deeper knowledge.

“There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years in the Israeli health system about how to maximize the educational benefit from internships, and align it more closely with the American system,” Potterman said. “In this new plan by the Ministry of Health, doctors will have an opportunity to experience more focused training as trainees, while shortening the time it takes to bring trained doctors into the medical workforce.”

Professor Haim Botterman, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Bar-Ilan University. (Courtesy of Bar-Ilan University)

Israel has been facing a shortage of doctors for years, especially in remote areas of the country. The confluence of a growing number of elderly people in need of care and a wave of physicians from the retirement of baby boomers in Israel has exacerbated the problem. As well as the lack of places in Israeli medical schools, which prompted many Israelis to study abroad.

Professor Nadav Davidovich, chair of the Department of Health Systems Management at Ben-Gurion University School of Medicine, said the reform is an important step in a system that needs reform.

He told The Times of Israel, “There is an urgent need to restructure medical education, including internships and including all residencies.” “The changes make a lot of sense and will get doctors working in their specialties faster, which is important given the shortage of doctors.”

According to a scheme issued by the ministry, the new program will include a six-month “core” period, which includes time in internal medicine, general surgery, paediatrics and more – which includes working at different times of the day and night.

After each period, the department of the hospital where they serve will assess competency and only allow them to apply if they are successful.

The residency will be restructured. Instead of the current rule, which allows new doctors to immerse themselves in a particular specialty for just a month or two before choosing one to focus on, they’ll have more time to decide. They will spend six months working in one or two majors, a move aimed at producing physicians who have made informed decisions about their specialty and are passionate about their area.

Professor Nachman Ash, Director General of the Ministry of Health, called the decision “a fundamental change for all medical students and the entire health system”.

“In the long term, we will get the best doctors who will integrate quickly, smoothly and professionally into health institutions, and make the whole system easier,” he added.

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