'We need to train more therapists for the Israeli population'

Professor Shlomo Noy, Dean of the School of Health Professions at Ono Academic College, discusses the school’s therapy and nursing programs.

 Professor Shlomo Noy (photo credit: ONO ACADEMIC COLLEGE)
Professor Shlomo Noy
(photo credit: ONO ACADEMIC COLLEGE)

Prof. Shlomo Noy says that Israel is facing a dramatic shortage of occupational therapists, communication disorder therapists, sports therapists and nurses. As Dean of the School of Health Professions at Ono Academic College, he is determined to do something about it. Noy recently spoke with this writer to explain how Ono’s School of Health Professions has been working to train the next generation of therapists in these fields, increasing the number qualified practitioners to its ranks.

“The School of Health Professions at Ono was founded sixteen years ago,” says Noy, “to achieve the broader goals common to all the programs at Ono Academic College but within the fields of health.   We wanted to make professional treatment in occupational therapy, communications disorders, sports therapy and nursing much more accessible to the Israeli population. Ono was founded with the vision of making Israeli society more equal and more accessible to different sectors within society.”

To illustrate his point, Noy cites a hypothetical case of a four-year-old Haredi girl who needs speech therapy. A Haredi family, he explains, would not allow a male speech therapist to treat her. The language and cultural barriers in Haredi society, he says, are barriers which would delay or prevent the treatment the child requires. In such a case, says Noy, “the child pays the price, because their normal development process is slowed down or blocked.”

The programs at Ono, he explains, supply more therapists in these specific disciplines throughout Israel, including in the country’s geographic periphery, as well as to the different communities in Israeli society, such as the Haredi and Arab populations.

Since the founding of the School of Health Professions, it has compiled an enviable record of academic success for its students. Over the past twelve years, 95% of its graduates have passed the state licensure examinations.

Students spend the first year and a half to two years studying basic sciences such as physiology and anatomy before beginning clinical training. Noy reports that he has received excellent feedback about Ono students from clinical sites and adds that the school has adopted a unique approach in the training of its therapy students, shifting much of its clinical training from hospitals to locations within the community, such as the Keshev Center which treats children with hearing deficits, and community rehabilitation centers operated by Israel’s Kupot Holim.

Ono Academic College has numerous extensions throughout Israel, and the School of Health Professions is expanding its health profession offerings to these campuses. While a full range of courses is offered at Ono’s main campus in Kiryat Ono, the Jerusalem campus, which has many Arab students, offers degrees in clinical communications disorders, occupational therapy and nursing.

Ono operates an extension program at Alei Negev near Ofakim, offering these programs and will soon be opening a health professions extension at the school’s Haifa campus. Noy adds that the school is in the final stages of receiving approval from Israel’s Council for Higher Education (MALAG) to open a nursing program at the EMMS Nazareth Hospital.

“We are executing our vision, not only in different geographical locations but in different sectors of society,” explains Noy, who points out that ten years ago, Ono Academic College was the first school to create a special track for Haredi women to study communication disorders and occupational therapy, enabling them to treat members of Haredi society with these issues. He adds that the school also has a center in the Arab town of Taibeh for training communication disorder therapists. “When you need speech therapy,” he says, “you require someone who speaks your language – otherwise, the discipline has no meaning. We are unique in that we offer more accessibility to different populations in Israeli society and at geographical sites in remote places, not necessarily in Israel’s center. We took an important mission upon ourselves, and we are achieving it.”  

Beyond the bachelor’s degree programs that Ono Academic College offers in occupational therapy, communication disorder therapy, sports therapy and nursing, the college offers two unique graduate programs. The first is an MA program in Multidisciplinary Health Sciences and Rehabilitation, and the second is an MA degree in Case Management. Both programs are fully accredited by the Council for Higher Education.

Noy explains that the master’s Program in Multidisciplinary Health Sciences is intended for people working in the health professions who want to learn more about other rehabilitative fields, such as communication disorders, occupational therapy, nursing, or sports therapy. “Instead of learning more about what you already know, you will learn about other disciplines,” he says. 

The master’s program in Case Management is a clinical program designed for health professionals to treat severe cases which require a multidisciplinary approach. “The case manager coordinates all the health professionals in different medical disciplines – sometimes as many as 8 or 10 disciplines,” says Noy. The program is designed primarily for nurses.

Returning to discuss the nursing program which launched three years ago, Noy explains that one of the unique elements of the program is the strategic cooperation with Sheba Tel-Hashomer Medical Center and the Maccabi Healthcare system. He adds that the cooperative agreement with Maccabi enables nursing students to train at numerous clinical sites and hospitals throughout Israel. “Our nursing program is very technologically minded,” he says. “We have the best and most advanced simulation center of all of the nursing schools in Israel.”

The simulation center for nursing students will be part of the new state-of-the-art Ono Academic College campus scheduled to open at Savyon Junction in Kiryat Ono this July.  In addition to its sleek academic buildings, student dormitories, offices and commercial areas, the new campus has several special facilities, including the simulation center.  Modern, well-equipped therapy rooms will serve its occupational, speech, sports and art therapy students.

Beyond the technological advances from which Ono students benefit, Noy says that the program offers excellent and highly trained instructors from the medical world who bring vast academic and clinical experience.

Though AI (artificial intelligence) is a popular term that is bandied about a great deal, Noy says that human interaction in training health professionals remains essential. “Even in these days of implementing advanced technologies into healthcare services, the need for health professionals to supervise, educate, monitor and assess treatment outcomes is critical.”

As our discussion comes to a close, Professor Noy notes the positive impact of Ono’s School of Health Professions on the Israeli medical system.  “There is a shortage of personnel in the Israeli health system, and we need to train many more therapists and nurses in order to provide enough service to patients. The current situation in Israel regarding the health professionals ratio to the general population is very low compared to the standards in the Western world.”

He adds that therapy services need to be more accessible in a community setting, rather than being provided exclusively in hospitals. “If people have to travel to the hospital and it takes them an hour and a half to get there, they will skip their sessions. We need more community-based locations.” 

This article was written in cooperation with Ono Academic College.