In 2040, some of the 50 young men and women in the first class of the IDF/Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School's military medicine track will be professors, hospital department heads, hospital directors or even the IDF chief medical officer. So said OC Medical Corps Brig.-Gen. Nahman Ash on Thursday, at an opening ceremony on the first day of classes.
About a third of the students - who have hardly found their way around Jerusalem's Ein Kerem campus yet - are women; a handful are Druse, the rest Jewish. They will go to medical school as IDF academic program (Atuda) students along with the regular medical students, but they will be given additional lectures on battlefield treatment, evacuation, ethics and many other necessary subjects. After graduation in seven years, they will be hospital interns and residents and serve as military physicians.
Hanna Dropivsky, a 21-year-old from Kiryat Ata who is a member of the new track, was excited about what lay ahead. She served as a soldier for a year after she was not accepted to medical school.
"I worked hard and improved my psychometric scores, and now I was accepted. It was always my dream to be a physician," said Dropivsky, the daughter of a van driver and a Haifa Municipality employee.
The need for the military medicine track has become apparent from the serious lack of IDF physicians, due partly to the small number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union and the retirement of many such immigrant physicians at present and in the coming years.
Ash told the students that they were facing a major challenge and should feel proud and welcome.
"We know you had an alternative," he added. Most would have been accepted to any of the four regular medical schools without taking on a more demanding and less financially rewarding military career, he said.
The Jerusalem medical faculty competed with Ben-Gurion University's Faculty of Health Sciences for the right to offer the track - which is known by its Hebrew acronym, Tzameret (acme, or treetops) - but HU-Hadassah won the IDF tender just over half a year ago.
Prof. Shmuel Shapira, deputy director of the Hadassah Medical Organization and outgoing head of its School for Public Health and Community Medicine, is the director of Tzameret.
"You were chosen because of your excellence," said Shapira at the ceremony, adding that the students had been sifted in a long series of interviews and examinations.
HU president Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson said that when the students graduated, they would be "the bridge between medicine and the military. You will learn science, not just a profession. Be curious. Learn about cultures and science and be humane."
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said the expansion of the Jerusalem medical school was part of his plan to promote academia, medicine and biotechnology in the capital. He recalled that when he was wounded as an officer in the First Lebanon War, he was treated by an IDF doctor.
"I trusted him to bring me back home alive," said the mayor. "I know that the IDF will not compromise on the quality of its doctors."
Medical school dean Prof. Eran Leitersdorf, who himself was a new Atuda student on the campus exactly 41 years ago, conceded that some logistical problems remained, but that he was sure everything would soon be settled.
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman, meanwhile, said he hoped the new track would help increase the number of physicians in the country, as he had seen for himself the shortage during late-night visits to hospital emergency rooms and internal medicine departments.