Medical professionals top the list of highest paid government employees, accounting for 18 of the top 20, data released by the Finance Ministry revealed Monday. The head anaesthesiologist at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon earned the highest wage among those employed directly by the government - NIS 59,493 monthly, followed by a senior staffer at Tel Hashomer's Shiba Medical Center, who earned NIS 59,198 monthly. On an annual basis, the two doctors cost the Israeli government NIS 858,484 and NIS 640,556, respectively, including employer fees, in 2004 - the year covered by the report. Only nine of the top 50 government wage earners - and 24 of the top 100 - were not medical personnel. Justice Ministry officials accounted for 19 of the top 100, including the third-highest government wage earner - an official in charge of public complaints against judged with a wage of NIS 56,351 monthly. The director of the land registry in the ministry placed 19th, with a wage of NIS 50,979 monthly. Senior Health Ministry staff placed 21st and 23rd on the list, with NIS 50,862 and NIS 50,748 each month, respectively, while the highest paid employee of the Finance Ministry itself and the only Treasury official to make the top 100 - a senior accountant at the Defense Ministry - placed 47th with a monthly salary of NIS 46,080. The Israel Medical Association disputed the report, arguing that data on physicians "misrepresented the true and sad picture of doctors' wages." The data presented by the Treasury relate to "only a fraction of a percentage" of the country's 20,000 working physicians, said the IMA. The highest paid are senior medical administrators and doctors with special expertise. "They direct thousands of workers and have tremendous responsibility for their work around the clock. Compared to those in the private market and medical institutions abroad, even these salaries are low," the IMA said. Israeli physicians work an average of 60 hours a week. Even after going home, they are called into hospitals to deal with emergencies, the IMA said, adding that 77 percent of all physicians earn a basic salary of less than NIS 12,500 a month. Those who do overtime at night and on weekends or holidays earn more. A doctor studying a specialty earns NIS 20 an hour, while a hospital director of the highest tenure earns NIS 46 per hour. A specialist with 16 years' experience earns a basic salary of NIS 15,357, while a department head with 19 years experience gets NIS 20,444. A newly graduated MD, at the average age of 28, earns NIS 5,800 a month in the public sector, including duty hours, while a 30-year-old doctor studying a specialty gets NIS 13,500 and a 35-year-old specialist earns NIS 18,000. A 40-year-old deputy department head in a public hospital takes home NIS 18,000 as well, the IMA said. The Justice Ministry responded that all Justice Ministry wages included in the report were legal and within bounds. "The senior [officials] mentioned and other senior officials serve in positions with employment conditions on par with those of district or high court judges, and their wage is paid in accordance with the wages received by the judges," the ministry said, adding that "these wage arrangements ... have been in practice for years, and are not at all new or exceptional."