Doctor shortage looms as retirement increases

A total of 606 new medical licenses were granted last year, compared to 946 in 1980.

doctor 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
doctor 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi [file])
Although a growing number of Israeli physicians will retire in the next few years - causing a serious shortage in certain medical specialties - the number of locally trained medical school graduates has remained steady at just 250 to 300 a year since the 1970s, due to Treasury restrictions. This appears clear in the latest Health Ministry report entitled Manpower in the Health Professions, issued for publication on Wednesday. The 191-page report, updated to 2008, includes data not only on doctors but also nurses, dentists, psychologists, pharmacists, dental technicians, optometrists and others. A total of 606 new medical licenses were granted last year, compared to only seven in 1948 and 946 in 1980. The share of immigrant doctors from the former Soviet Union continues to decline as aliya from those areas wanes. The new licensees include not only those trained in Israel, but also immigrants who studied abroad and Israelis who studied medicine in Hungary, Romania, Italy and other foreign countries and returned home. Today, there are 33,051 licensed physicians in Israel, 25,542 under the age of 65; an unknown number do not work as physicians. Since the early 1990s, around half of all medical licenses have been awarded to women, compared to a third in the 1980s. Today, 55% of all family practitioners; 46% of hematologists, 5% of neurosurgeons, 10% of cardiologists, 1% of cardiothoracic surgeons and 45% of pediatricians are women. The rate of licensed physicians under 65 per 1,000 residents was 3.46, compared to 3.75 in 1997 - an 8% decline. Two-fifths of Israeli physicians of working age were born here, while 44% come from Eastern Europe and a tenth were born in the Americas. The share of Israeli-born doctors under the age of 45 is higher than that of immigrant doctors, and they constitute half of all physicians. Looking specifically at advanced medical education, the report found that nearly 13,000 of all licensed physicians under the age of 65 (or 51%) are specialists and the rest general practitioners, compared to 38% in 1997. A third of specialists are under the age of 44. Half of all specialists of working age graduated from an Israeli medical school and a third studied in Eastern Europe. The most common specialties were internal medicine, pediatrics, family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology and psychiatry. Compared to nearly 2,500 internal medicine specialists of working age, there are only 573 anesthesiologists - thus the serious shortage in this specialty. There are just four specialists in pediatric clinical immunology and one in clinical chemistry. Last year, 212 new dentistry licenses were awarded, 36% of them to women (a rate that has remained steady during the past decade). There are now 9,656 licensed dentists, a number that has remained steady since the early 1990s, and 7,944 are under the age of 65. The rate of dentists of working age per 1,000 residents is 1.08. Of all the dentists under 65, 113 are dental specialists. There are 963 residents per dentist of working age compared to 925 residents 14 years ago. Two-fifth of Israeli dentists were born here compared to 40% born in Eastern Europe and 10% in the Americas. Around 150 new pharmacist licenses were awarded last year, half to people trained in Israel and 20% to Arab Israelis trained in Jordan. Women constitute half of all pharmacists and more of those under the age of 45. There are 5,416 pharmacists under the age of 65. Last year, 1,108 nurses were licensed, compared to 1,837 nine years ago. But 1,588 nurses were recognized as "registered nurses" due to additional studies; 567 of them had previously been only practical nurses. Forty-five percent of Israeli nurses and half of registered nurses are below the age of 45. One-tenth of licensed nurses are male. A total of 471 Israelis were licensed as psychologists last year, with 75% of them women and 80% of them trained here. Some 4,800 psychologists are licensed. Of those in specialties, over half are clinical, followed by 28% in educational psychology; 288 in social and vocational psychology; 226 in developmental psychology; 207 in rehabilitation psychology; and 153 in medical psychology.