Israel’s health system pulls off an impressive balancing act, producing high-quality results at relatively low costs. That high wire act may soon tumble.
It is true that in the developed world, Israel pays below average for health, while producing better-than-average outcomes among OECD countries.
But how does it pull off such a feat? Behind these impressive facts lie undervalued and underpaid doctors, who are worked to the bone for very little compensation.
Although a handful of high-level doctors are among the country’s highest paid public employees, 77 percent of physicians earn a basic monthly salary under NIS 12,500 despite working 60-hour weeks. The salary scale ranges from a measly NIS 5,800 a month for new med school grads to just over NIS 20,000 a month for department heads in the business for 19 years, about the same salary a US government worker earns right out of graduate school.
Worse, these pay grades are a recent improvement – the current salaries are the result of three months of medical resident strikes that followed 158 days of doctor strikes, each protesting their labor conditions. Many doctors believe the new agreements signed with the Finance Ministry did not go far enough, so instead of clashing once again with the Treasury, they are starting to vote with their feet.
A newly-released study from Ben-Gurion University, which surveyed 1,330 doctors licensed between 2000-2006 found that since 2000, a whopping 12.5% of new doctors defected from the field. As they peeled off for better jobs in biotechnology, industrial medicine, legal consulting and high-tech, the doctors cited the grueling work, long hours and, above all else, the low pay in their profession.
In addition to those who already departed for greener pastures, an additional 14.5% of the doctors said they intend to leave their field, and 9% had already interviewed for new jobs.
During the most recent round of negotiations with the medical residents, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz suggested that doctors should simply accept their low pay out of sheer Zionist patriotism.
If Israel is to maintain a successful, functional health system, it must find a better reason than that for doctors to stay on board.