Israel facing shortage of physicians, researchers find

July 5, 2017 20:05

Physicians in many Western countries are required to undergo periodic relicensing exams to stay abreast of new medical developments, but this is not mandatory in Israel.

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Doctor [Illustrative]. (photo credit:INGIMAGE)

The number of Israeli physicians actually working in the profession is significantly lower than the official figures used by the Health Ministry, because of inaccurate data on those working in other occupations or living abroad.

With many physicians who settled here from the former Soviet Union retiring or about to retire, the shortage is more serious than ministry officials realize.

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That is the conclusion of researchers writing in the latest issue of the Israel Journal of Health Policy Research.

In their article “Is there a doctor in the house? Availability of Israeli physicians to the workforce,” the researchers – Pamela Kuflik Horowitz, Annarosa Anat Shemesh and Tuvia Horev – write that only 74% of licensed physicians of all ages in 2012 were active in the Israeli workforce. Of physicians under the age of 70, just 87% were living and working in Israel.

Physicians in many Western countries are required to undergo periodic relicensing exams to stay abreast of new medical developments, but this is not mandatory in Israel. Thus, actual numbers of practicing doctors are not available here.

In addition, women doctors – who are increasingly supplying half of medical manpower – tend to retire from the workforce earlier than males and are more likely to work fewer hours during their working years. The rate of physicians who worked longer hours declined in both genders as age rose. About 10% of licensed physicians have been living abroad for at least a year and the majority of these were older. Approximately 7% of licensed physicians from the age of 30 to 44 were abroad, and most are presumed to be doing additional clinical training or gaining research experience.

To find the real number of available and working physicians, the researchers crossed the list of licensed physicians with data from the Israel Tax Authority income file and the Central Bureau of Statistics Population Registry, which provided data on physicians whose occupation was in medical care as well as the number of work hours. By linking the files, the researchers could also assess the population of licensed Israeli physicians living abroad.

The researchers found that in some specialty fields, young physicians were not replacing retirees at a compensatory rate; anesthesiologists, a specialty in short supply here, were more likely to be living abroad than other specialists.

The authors note that “for planning future workforce needs, it is important to keep in mind that the average female vs male physician has lower clinical productivity due to shorter hours and earlier retirement, and that a group of young physicians will predictably be abroad at any point in time.”

They add that a potential shortage of physicians within Israel can be mitigated by better administrative support of physicians, use of physician assistants and careful attention to improving physician satisfaction in certain specialties.

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