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
“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
“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
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
“I also deal with a lot of social issues and act as a liaison
between the medical staff and the families of patients,” she
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“At Reuth there’s a strong emphasis on preventive medicine too,
and this is also something where my specific skills can be helpful.”
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
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
She also got together on a weekly basis with other young new
“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.
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.
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.
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