Hebrew U, Ben-Gurion compete to create IDF medical school

Tender for a medical school is due to be issued very soon to graduate 50 specially trained military physician/officers each year.

soldiers wait for doctor 248.88 (photo credit: IDF)
soldiers wait for doctor 248.88
(photo credit: IDF)
Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School and Ben-Gurion University's Health Sciences Faculty are competing for a Defense Ministry tender to establish an Israel Defense Forces medical education program to relieve the severe shortage of military physicians. The tender for a medical school, attached to an existing medical school, is due to be issued very soon to graduate 50 specially trained military physician/officers each year and to begin teaching in the fall of 2009. The medical schools at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa and Tel Aviv University are not expected to compete in the tender. Although the IDF has an atuda (academic officers) medical program, few 18-year-old high school graduates have been attracted to it, and only Ben-Gurion University has been able to persuade even a small number to join its atuda medical program every year. Some of the medical schools reportedly believe that such applicants are too young to start medical studies at that age. Also, most soldiers who finish compulsory IDF service want to be free to study at medical school at 21 and then go directly into hospital or clinic work without being bound by the military framework, even though the IDF pays the full tuition of atuda students if they commit to working several years as military physicians. But even atuda medical students have never been taught specifically to be military physicians - including officer and leadership training and coping with battlefields and the unique wounds of soldiers. Prof. Shmuel Shapira, deputy director-general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, said that Hebrew University wants to offer 50 male and female students a special "curriculum of excellence" whose minimum academic requirements of psychometric and matriculation test grades would be different than those for admission to a regular medical school. "We would put more stress on leadership potential, interpersonal relationships and personality than regular admission criteria," he said. The military medical students and regular post-IDF medical students would study most subjects together, with the former taking additional courses and training, he said. The Hadassah Medical Organization and HU have been working on their proposal for a year. "There is plenty of room in Ein Kerem dormitories for single medical students and those with families, as well as infrastructure for teaching and clinical work," he said. "In a quarter century, I predict that most of the leading physicians will be graduates of a military medical school program." Prof. Shaul Sofer, dean of BGU's medical school, said BGU deserves to win the tender because "it was our idea going back a decade. The late professor Shraga Segal, who was dean of BGU's Health Services Faculty, approached approached professor Arieh Eldad, then IDF chief medical officer (and now an MK), with the idea of establishing a special military medical student program, Sofer said. Segal worried even then about the shortage of high-quality military doctors. But the idea went nowhere for years, even after Segal's successor, Prof. Rivka Carmi (now BGU president) worked on it. Now that the Defense Ministry and IDF have eagerly endorsed a military medical school currulum, Sofer said he and BGU have a well-conceived tender bid to present. "We love atuda students," said Sofer. "We don't think they are too young to start medical school. And with the giant training base due to be built not far away in the Negev, Beersheba is the natural place. At present, we have the country's only academic school for paramedics, and all the IDF paramedics are our graduates."