The country’s fifth medical school will open in October with 127 new students in two tracks on the Ziv Medical Center campus in Safed.

The medical school, the first to open in Israel since Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in 1974, will train 200 much-needed physicians within four years at an investment of NIS 130 million – giving a big boost to the Galilee and to nearby hospitals where the students will undergo clinical instruction.

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The cornerstone for the new campus was laid Monday, in a ceremony attended by Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom and Bar-Ilan University president Prof. Moshe Kaveh, whose institution is sponsoring the academic studies.

Shalom hailed the opening of a new medical school as an “historic event. After 2000 years, we have established a medical school in Safed that will be opening in the coming [academic] year.

“This will launch one of the most important projects in the State of Israel today, one that will create strategic change in the Galilee. It will create 5,000 more jobs directly and tens of thousands more indirectly. Even today, the increase in real estate values is felt, and this will continue” as living in the area becomes desirable.

He said the new educational facility will upgrade the region’s whole economy and health services. The minister expects that the Safed region and environs will get 300,000 more people in the next decade thanks to the medical school.

Kaveh said Bar-Ilan has succeeded in attracting 15 Israeli scientists who left to work in some of the leading universities in the US and will soon return home.

All of the 127 first-year students have already done some or all of their pre-clinical work elsewhere, including at European medical schools, and so they will need to study for only three or four years in Safed. Many of them are coming on full scholarship in return for a commitment to work in northern hospitals after they graduate.

A total of NIS 60 million has been invested in the first new structure on campus, plus NIS 70 million in advanced research labs that will be set aside for the work of returning scientists and students. A total of NIS 550 million will be invested in the whole campus at Ramat Razim, half from the state and the rest from foreign donations. Kaveh promised to raise $200 million in matching funds over five years for the medical school, which has national priority.

Bar-Ilan is the fifth public university to establish and run a medical school after the Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology and Ben-Gurion University.

The first track will be comprised of 57 returning Israeli students who will soon complete pre-clinical studies in Europe and who wanted to go to an Israeli medical school but were not admitted here for lack of space; they will graduate in 2014. The other track will have 70 Israeli students who will complete their bachelor’s degrees here and abroad and will need four years in Safed; they will graduate as doctors in 2015.

The Safed medical school will be headed by Prof. Ran Tur-Kaspa, vice dean of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine and an internist who is a liver expert.

The first building will be renovated and expanded from a 1930s structure that is part of Ziv and has not been used in recent years.

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