When a physician fresh out of medical school goes to serve in the Israel Defense Forces, he is usually overwhelmed by the new rules and procedures that he had never encountered before and has to learn the ropes almost instantly while treating his first patients.

But now, IDF chief medical officer Brig. General Prof. Yitzhak Kreiss and Col. Salman Zarka, commander of the IDF’s Center for Medical Services, have instituted a new pilot program to ease their initiation. General practitioners in the field, among them women and Druse, are assisted by more experienced physicians and can call them at any time to consult.

Major Dr. Shay Nathanson, a case manager for primary medicine, counsels dozens of young IDF physicians aged 26 to 29, saving them time and speeding appropriate treatment for soldiers in their units. Nathanson, who studied medicine at Tel Aviv University and specialized in family medicine while learning the ins and outs of military healthcare. “A young doctor posted somewhere on the Golan Heights is alone with his patient and needs answers.

When and how does one transport a sick soldier to a hospital – by an ordinary military vehicle or ambulance or helicopter? All he or has to do is call me. Conditions that can be photographed, such as skin rashes, are transmitted via smartphone.

Nathanson doesn’t just sit in his office in Shizafon in the Arava but makes the rounds to various bases every few months, observes them with patients, looks at x-rays, electrocardiograms and other evidence and gives advice.

One would think that the soldier population is mostly young and healthy, but they include not only 16 to 21 year olds. Those in the professional army serve until the age of 50 and may suffer from chronic diseases from high blood cholesterol and hypertension to diabetes and even cancer. After consulting with soldiers and doctors in the pilot project, Nathanson told The Jerusalem Post that it would be decided whether to expand it around the country. “From the feedback I receive, it’s already a great success.”

Dr. Igor Snast,who as a child in 1991 came on aliya with his family from the Ukraine and studied medicine in the military academic track at Haifa’s Technion’s Rappaport Medical Faculty, is one of the young physicians who gets advice from Nathanson.

A resident of Rishon Lezion who is based at Shizafon, Snast said that even though soldiers are generally healthy people, many do suffer from back, leg, knee and ankle pain. Others have infections of the urinary system or others, fractures or pneumonia. “I have to rule out significant problems. Motivation and mood can also be involved in their subjective feelings of pain. I see about 40 patients a day.”

“I think this new pilot program is brilliant. A young military doctor faces all kinds of complaints and red tape. In the beginning, I spoke to Shay six times a day. Now that I have learned a lot, I need help less often.” Snast said he “really enjoys treating people. I prefer that to administration. I’m lucky, because if you don’t enjoy a one-on-one relationship with patients, you won’t be happy in your job.”

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