Easier conditions for professional licensing are now being offered to immigrant doctors and nurses by the Absorption and Health ministries, which are well aware of the looming shortage of medical professionals. There are now only 3.5 physicians per 1,000 Israelis, down from one of the highest rates in the world in the 1990s, when masses of new immigrant doctors arrived from the former Soviet Union. In addition, there are only 5.8 nurses per 1,000 Israelis - the lowest figure in a decade. Of all the MDs who came on aliya since 1989, 11,351 were licensed to practice here. Today they constitute a third of all working doctors in Israel. The new programs will allow doctors to reuse the bonus they received for their licensing preparation exam and help doctors take part in special "tracks" towards specialization, with financial help from the Absorption Ministry. A physician who graduated from a foreign medical school has to pass a state medical exam here. The Absorption Ministry runs a six-month preparatory course and pays the doctor applicants to participate. Those who receive a grade of at least 70 earn a bonus of 10 points on the licensing exam. Until now, the bonus was in effect for only one test, but now doctors will be able to use the bonus three times over two years after completing the preparatory course. When they get an Israeli work license, immigrant doctors can work as general practitioners; studying a specialty takes another four to six years. To help newcomers, the Absorption Ministry will finance half of their salaries for two years as they study a specialty. At the end of this period, the health funds and the Health Ministry will cover the costs of specialization studies. Immigrant registered nurses can also receive significant help in studying for their licensing exam, which is often difficult for them to pass. The Health Ministry has opened an interactive Web site that will help them drill for the test (www.rntest.health.gov.il). Nurses may answer questions in any of five languages (Hebrew, English, Russian, French and Spanish) and receive grades and feedback. "The quality of medicine in Israel is one of the highest in the world, also thanks to tens of thousands of immigrants who arrived and joined the medical system," Absorption Minister Eli Aflalo said. "We must continue to encourage their aliya from all over the world and help them. "The manpower shortage expected during the coming decade demands that we act together to develop more lenient programs and promote their employment," Aflalo said.