The Israel Medical Association (IMA) has come out in support of the Council for Higher Education's decision to open a fifth medical center in the Galilee. But the IMA, which represents more than 20,000 physicians around the country, said that funding must be found to expand the student bodies of the existing medical faculties affiliated with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The IMA has for several years been warning that the country faces a shortage of doctors because of impending retirements, the near-drying out of immigration from the former Soviet Union and the aging of the population. There are only 380 medical students accepted by the four schools each year, but 600 new doctors are needed annually, and it takes seven years to graduate. The Galilee, which needs an economic and social boost, is a good place for a medical school, said the IMA, but it must not be at the expense of the existing medical faculties. The IMA said that 1,000 Israelis were currently studying medicine at foreign (mostly Eastern European) medical schools because they were not accepted by Israeli schools. But they should be admitted to Israeli medical faculties whose quality is higher, as most of them return to Israel to work, the IMA added. The main limitation on medical schools besides government funds is the shortage of places in teaching hospitals for medical students from their fourth year of studies onward. Another problem is the need to expand funding and infrastructure for medical research, the association said.