The opening today of Bar-Ilan University’s new medical school in Safed is a milestone event in the history of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. Tomorrow, 124 students will begin their studies at this groundbreaking institution, including 54 Israelis returning to their homeland – and to the Galilee – from foreign universities where they have already completed three years of pre-clinical study.

Israel’s highest-ranking government, educational and medical leadership will be present at the school’s dedication, the realization of a national and Zionist project of the highest magnitude.

How will this medical school differ from Israel’s others? First, in its location.The new school reflects, more than anything else, a state commitment to developing Israel’s periphery – in this case, its northern periphery – and to enhancing the health and welfare of those who reside there. It is no secret that disparities exist between northern and central Israel regarding the level, availability and accessibility of healthcare. The new medical school, whose establishment will provide a framework for upgrading local hospitals and for attracting outstanding physicians to them, will aid greatly in closing these gaps.

Second, in its innovative character.

The school’s academic leadership, under the leadership of its dean, Prof.

Ran Tur-Kaspa, has succeeded in developing a unique and innovative curriculum based on careful study of the curricula currently in place at Israeli and top-echelon foreign medical schools. This was done in cooperation with leading American institutions such as Harvard Medical School, the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, the Miller School of Medicine at the University of Miami, and others.

The groundbreaking new curriculum will feature an integrative teaching approach, one that links core science and clinical studies while imparting to students an orientation toward health promotion and disease prevention.

In accordance with this innovative approach, the medical school will house research centers devoted to the study of disease processes; the activity at these centers will be informed by a translational-research approach and will address population health and morbidity from a unique perspective.

The Council for Higher Education’s expert panel had good reason to characterize the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee as pioneering and inventive.

Third, in its degree of social involvement.The medical school will place special emphasis on ambulatory medicine as a crucial means of upgrading the healthcare available to Galilee residents, and making it more accessible. Thirty percent of students’ time during the clinical study years will be devoted to hands-on activity in community-based ambulatory clinics, which in turn will foster the development of academic medicine in the community, and promote the development of research suited to this approach. The school will also engage in activity aimed at encouraging science education for youth, and the university will assist disadvantaged populations through its social involvement departments and units.

Fourth, in its people-oriented approach.Alongside knowledge acquisition, a grounding in medicine’s scientific underpinnings, and the development of clinical skills, the Bar-Ilan University Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee regards the personal character of its future graduates as a key component of the medical school experience.

BIU medical students will be trained to relate to patients, to empathize with them and to interact with them and their families in a respectful manner.

Coursework in medical ethics and in halachic approaches to medicine will play an important role in this regard. Physicians trained at the Bar-Ilan University medical school will adhere loyally to the Oath of the Hebrew Physician, which admonishes young physicians to “have the wisdom to understand the soul of the sick, to lift their spirits with perspicacity and love of man.”

The first-rate scientific caliber of Bar Ilan University and of its research cadre has been eminently reflected over recent years in the development of leading centers for the study of neuroscience, nanotechnology and nanomedicine, engineering, and the life sciences.

This, in turn, has enabled Bar Ilan to meet the formidable challenge of launching a pioneering medical school where, within a few years’ time, some 1,000 students will be studying in three-year, four-year and six-year study tracks. The school will absorb outstanding students and scientists returning from abroad, which will change the face of the Galilee, and serve as a magnet for doctors, researchers and businesspeople; it will be a driving force behind the establishment of a pharmaceutical industry, high-tech enterprises, and a business development center.

Could anything more exciting be happening in the Galilee today? We of Bar-Ilan University, who planted the first seeds of academic education in the Galilee by establishing regional colleges in Israel’s peripheries as far back as the early 1960s, are proud and elated to see our Zionist, social and national mission come to fruition in the founding of a medical school, one that will bring honor to the Galilee and to the State of Israel.

The writer is the president of Bar-Ilan University.

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