Physician-MK raps Sheba director for training program

Medical studies partly abroad, could "lower quality of profession," MK Rachel Adoto chastizes; committee convened to discuss development.

March 28, 2011 03:19
DOCTORS AT Kaplan Hospital

DOCTORS AT Kaplan Hospital 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Sheba Medical Center director-general Prof. Zeev Rotstein got his knuckles rapped by Knesset Education Committee chairman Alex Miller on Sunday for “taking the wrong path” to increase the number of foreign and Israeli medical students here while expanding Israeli academic prestige, but he added that the hospital head nevertheless had good intentions.

Miller had called the urgent special session at the request of Kadima MK Rachel Adato, a trained physician and lawyer who castigated Rotstein for his nearly unilateral and suddenly publicized program combining two years of academic studies at the University of Cyprus with two years of clinical studies at Sheba at Tel Hashomer for bachelor’s degree graduates. She said she had learned of the would-be program after seeing a newspaper ad.

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The Israel Beiteinu MK gave Rotstein six weeks to coordinate his intentions and plans with all other institutions and players who need to be involved, including presidents of the five universities (Bar-Ilan University’s medical school will open next year in Safed), the Council for Higher Education and the Health Ministry, if Sheba wanted to get full approval.

The medical degree program is formally supervised by the University of London’s St. George Hospital, but the dozens of students expecting to start in September will spend their time only in Cyprus and Israel’s largest medical center without even seeing London, Adato charged.

She said there was no guarantee that students would study pathology, anatomy and other vital academic subjects they would be required to complete if they graduated from topflight Israeli medical schools, all of which are run and supervised by public universities whose medical students are subsidized by the state.

Adato complained that the council had not been asked for any authorization of the foreign university programs even though this was required by law.

As a result of subsidization and numbers limited by the Council for Higher Education’s planning and budgeting committee, only the best are accepted to the public medical schools here.

Since hundreds of Israeli young people rejected for studies still want to be physicians, they pay high tuition (tens of thousands of euro per year) at academic institutions in eastern Europe, hoping to get higher level clinical studies in faculty-supervised Israeli medical centers.

But the number of “teaching beds” and senior physicians at the best university- affiliated hospitals is already too small for Israeli medical students.

There is a limit to how many students can be trained by senior teaching physicians, agreed Israeli medical school deans. Such beds are an “Israeli natural resource” that belong to all institutions, and Sheba should not grab them for its own use, she charged.

Adato claimed that Rotstein’s program could lead down a slippery slope and introduce private medical colleges with high tuitions to benefit Israeli medical centers. While this would raise foreign money for hospitals, it would ape the phenomenon of numerous private colleges that give law degrees “on a lower level, reducing the quality of the profession,” she said.

The MK ridiculed the letter from Health Ministry director-general Dr.

Roni Gamzu, which stated that the ministry favored the program in principle because a significant number of students were Jews and potential candidates for aliya, when this had not been proven.

The ministry commented later that it was now in the process of examining the proposal, and that, at present, most of the large Israeli hospitals participate in academic teaching of Israeli medical students from Hungary for a year, and that the Sheba program would double this to two years.

The question is whether approval by the council is necessary for Sheba’s recognition as a “branch” of the Cypriot or British universities for teaching its medical students for two years.

Rotstein, who nevertheless was praised by Adato for his highly economic running of Sheba as an institution of excellence, declared that Israel was eager to become an active participant in the Bologna Treaty, giving Israeli students and researchers open access to high-level European institutions while turning down foreigners who want to undergo clinical training in Israeli hospitals.

He noted that his own daughter years ago graduated from a university in Hungary and became a licensed Israeli doctor after not being admitted to a university medical school here.

The council had never been involved in setting standards for the studies of foreign university students, he added.

The Sheba director said that although his hospital is owned by the Health Ministry, it must manage with its own financial means and does not receive state funds; instead, it has to raise money with its own initiatives, such as the London-Nicosia-Sheba proposal.

Hebrew University president Prof.

Menahem Ben-Sasson said ironically that he was happy to hear that “Sheba Medical Center suddenly has a surplus of teaching beds. In view of the acute shortage of clinical facilities and doctors, the universities will be happy to make use of them for additional Israeli medical students.”

HU medical school dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf said Israel must worry first about its own.

“I had to find a scholarship for a medical student who didn’t even have bus fare from the dorm. Ninety-four percent work to support themselves. If there is extra money, let it be for training Israelis as doctors,” he said.

The ministry’s Dr. Amir Shanon, who runs the medical professions department, said that while it has supported allowing foreign students to come for separate medical degree programs, it would not support any that brought too few Israelis.

“This is an odd mixture, with a bachelor’s degree from one place learning academically in Cyprus and supervised by the University of London and then two final years in Israeli teaching hospitals.”

A representative of the Council for Higher Education, Cigal Murdoch, said it had never received a request from Sheba for approval of the program, even though approval was required by law.

MK Arye Eldad, himself a trained plastic surgeon and burns specialist, said that foreign medical student programs were designed “in a different age, when there was a large number of physicians. Now we make it difficult for Israelis to study for six years and then do internship.”

Commenting later, Rambam Medical Center director Prof. Rafael Beyar said that “priority must always be secured for Israeli university students, but studies of foreign students in Israel is a positive phenomenon that should be allowed. I am strongly in favor of adding 200 more Israelis each year to be fully funded in the five Israeli medical schools; once this program is reached, it will erase all current distortions.”

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