The only physician’s assistant in town

Orly Matheson, 42 From Boca Raton, Florida, to Ra’anana, 2009.

Orly Matheson 521 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Orly Matheson 521
(photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Orly Matheson is the only person in the entire country, as far as she knows, with the title of “physician assistant.” The new immigrant from Boca Raton, Florida, earned the qualification in the US, taking a special course at Nova South-Eastern University after finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology.
“I had considered doing medicine but I was pregnant at the time and my husband and I decided it would be too hard for me,” says the pretty 42-year-old who made aliya to Ra’anana with her attorney husband Eric and four sons, ranging in age from 17 to four, in July 2009.
The courses for physician assistant were started in the Sixties to train healthcare professionals in many aspects of patient treatment in order to relieve the burden on the doctors themselves. Matheson applied for the course and was one of 75 out of the 300 applicants to be accepted. At the end of the three-year course, a graduate is qualified to do many of the things a physician does – taking histories, ordering lab tests, assisting in surgery and writing prescriptions.
“There are holes in the medical field that we can fill,” she says, “and we are like an extra set of eyes and ears for the physicians.”
With six years of experience in internal medicine and four in geriatrics and rehabilitation, it wasn’t difficult for her to find just the right job – as part of a medical team at Reuth Medical Center, a hospital in Tel Aviv that provides medical, rehabilitative and nursing care to patients of all ages in a warm supportive atmosphere.
“There’s a lot of hand-holding in my job,” smiles Matheson, who had met hospital director Dr. Nissim Ohana while still in the United States thanks to her husband’s Jewish community activities in Florida. When he found out about the existence of the physician assistant profession, Ohana realized there was a need for it in Israel, and both he and Matheson hope that more will come and the profession will become recognized here.
“I also deal with a lot of social issues and act as a liaison between the medical staff and the families of patients,” she explains.
“At Reuth there’s a strong emphasis on preventive medicine too, and this is also something where my specific skills can be helpful.”
Her husband was less lucky in finding work. An attorney, he was promised a job before making aliya, but it didn’t materialize and for now he is commuting between Ra’anana and New York, spending 10 days to two weeks out of each month in the US.
It’s not an ideal arrangement, and they both hope it is only temporary. Being alone with the four boys is not easy, although the older ones take care of the youngest one whenever necessary.
Although the first year here was what she describes as a “rocky road,” they managed to overcome the initial difficulties and find a way to live a satisfying and observant life here. They chose Ra’anana partly because they had a few friends already living there and partly because they liked the idea of living in a place that felt like a cross between a city and a suburb.
They are renting a house very close to the school where two of the boys study and have found a friendly, welcoming community in the synagogue they attend.
Matheson decided that she would not start working immediately, feeling that with their father commuting she had to provide the security of being there for the children whenever they needed her.
But she didn’t sit at home moping.
“I joined a baking and cooking class,” she says. “It was once a week for four months and I loved it.”
She also got together on a weekly basis with other young new immigrant mothers.
“We would meet for coffee somewhere in town and became an unofficial support group, exchanging experiences. It was very helpful for all of us." And finally, she decided to organize the same group to come to her house every week for a prayer meeting in which the women recited psalms, praying for anyone they knew about who was sick or in trouble of some sort.
“We would all pray together and afterwards sit down for coffee and cake. I’d usually serve the cake I’d learned to make in the cooking class of the week before,” she says with a smile.
She found that all these activities helped fulfill the needs of all the other immigrants as well as her own, making her absorption much easier. Today she finds that the children have also integrated well.
The language has not been a problem. In fact, Matheson was born in Israel and left at the age of one when her parents moved to Montreal. She grew up speaking English and Hebrew and went to a Jewish day school in Canada, but written Hebrew was a problem.
“When I first came, I couldn’t read a medical report, but now I can,” she says.
“The best way to integrate with Israelis is to work with them and live with them,” she advises.