Have Stethoscope, Will Travel
Big-money aliyah package luring some doctors to Israel to combat looming shortage.
For a Woodmere, L.I., pediatrician, the offer of a $60,000 fellowship to move her family to Israel and practice medicine there may be just what the doctor ordered.
Dr. Tamar Rosner, who practices with her mother in Brooklyn, said she had been “seriously considering” making aliyah and that learning of the fellowship and Israel’s need for physicians helped to finalize it for her. She said she, her husband and kids now plan to move to Israel this summer.
But when she makes the move, she’ll be practicing in a country where doctors earn only a fraction of what they do in the United States. In fact, most Israeli doctors have to have second jobs just to make ends meet.
“Doctors don’t move there [Israel] because of a lucrative salary,” Rosner said. “We’re going because it’s the Jewish homeland, and this fellowship is making the move more doable.
“We know we are going to live a less lavish life than in the U.S., but we are not going to starve.”
Rosner, 34, is one of several dozen doctors to show interest in the fellowship, being offered by the Legacy Heritage Foundation through Nefesh B’Nefesh, an organization dedicated to revitalizing aliyah from North America and the United Kingdom. The grant, in the form of an initial fellowship upon arrival in Israel and monthly supplemental income for the first two years, totals about $60,000. It is available to doctors under the age of 45 who are willing to practice at least nine months a year in Israel.
A spokeswoman for Nefesh B’Nefesh said the application deadline for the fellowships is March 15. She said 40 doctors have already downloaded the form since it became available last month, and that 100 others have expressed interest. Although the foundation has committed to providing 10 fellowships for each of the next three years — an outlay of $1.8 million — the spokeswoman said that number might be increased to accommodate demand.
The response is particularly heartening because it comes at a time when aliyah is at a 20-year low worldwide. However, the number of Jews making aliyah from North America increased by about 80 percent over the last five years, according to Nefesh B’Nefesh.
Rx For Doctor Drain
The fellowship was created in response to a study for Higher Education’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, which suggested that Israel will experience a shortage of doctors in the next 10 years. The report said the current ratio of 3.5 physicians for every 1,000 Israelis is expected to plunge to fewer than 2.5 per 1,000 in the next few years due to an expected population increase, a shortage of Israeli medical schools, doctors who are expected to stop practicing medicine for more lucrative fields, and the retirement of the large number of doctors from the former Soviet Union who made aliyah in the 1990s.
But Dr. Jonathan Halevy, director general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, stressed that “there is no connection between the evolving shortage of physicians and the fact that right now ... we have a good medical system.”
“Israel has a national health insurance program that covers quite an impressive basket of services and it is one of the best in the world,” he said. “Every citizen because of a health tax gets very good medical care. We don’t have the uninsured you have,” a reference to the more than 40 million Americans without health insurance.
But because of the growing shortage of physicians, Halevy said that “every physician who comes will find a job, especially in anesthesia, general surgery and pathology.”
Overseas physicians are being recruited, he added, because “it takes seven years to produce new physicians and in seven years we will have fewer than three physicians per every 1,000 Israelis. So we will need hundreds of new physicians starting in 2012.”
Rosner said it is a “positive thing to know that you are going to a place that needs you,” she said.
“When I found out that there was a lack of pediatricians, it was inspiring to hear that I could actually make a difference there,” she said.
Rosner said that she, her husband, Rabbi Shalom Rosner of Congregation Beis Ephraim in Woodmere, L.I., and their five children, plan to return each summer to work in a camp where her husband is the rabbi and heads the educational staff.
In addition to the fellowship, Rosner said Nefesh B’Nefesh has agreed to help streamline the process of getting a medical license in Israel.
“I had thought it was going to be very challenging to get my license and my specialty recognized in Israel,” she said. “Even though you could be board certified in the U.S., they don’t always transfer it and allow your specialty to be recognized when you get there. A psychiatrist friend of mine made aliyah last summer and spent a lot of time and energy to get her Israeli license. ... So up until now there had been a lot of red tape.”
The fellowship may also make the difference for Dr. Mordechai “Todd” Lyn, 35, a neurologist who took a sabbatical from his private practice in Houston to practice medicine in Israel this year to see if Israeli life was for him.
“We arrived in August and it’s been a wonderful experience,” he said. “It’s been fantastic.
It’s had its trials and tribulations, especially having children here. But they have done well and met friends and their Hebrew is coming along. They have adapted as well as we could have possibly expected.”
His children are ages 6, 3 and 1. His wife, Dikla, was born on a kibbutz and came to the U.S. when she was 5.
“We’ve been trying to figure out how we could make it here financially,” Lyn said. “You don’t make here what you make in the states. But when we heard that Nefesh B’Nefesh would help me as I get established over a period of several years and that it would provide me with opportunities I would not have had, it looks more promising than if I had just come on my own.”
Low Tuition, Free Health Care
Lyn, an Orthodox Jew who did his training at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, said he plans to return to the U.S. this summer, resume his practice and “try to figure out how reasonable it would be to stay in Israel, at least temporarily.”
He said he has already been approached by a hospital because there is a “specific need” for his specialty.
“I’m looking into it,” Lyn said. “The salary is significantly less but the cost of living here is also significantly less. Tuition is less compared to a quality yeshiva education in the United States. For the public school system here, you pay school dues of $100 a year. And for private schools like yeshiva, it’s $150 a month. And health care is free. And if you want to go onto a private health care system, the cost is far less than what it is in America.”
“Israel is not America,” Lyn added. “But what is important in America may not be important in Israel. For instance travel within the country. You can go from the beach to the snow in a matter of hours – and you can drive there. People in America have to fly from Florida to Vail. So if you want to indulge, you can. But there is so much to do without going into indulgences. ... They really want doctors here, plus you get to live in Israel. And you feel like Israel is a very meaningful existence.”
An American gastroenterologist who made aliyah two years ago, Dr. Ian Gralnek, 45, said his three children ages 14, 12, and 9 “adapted extremely well” even though they did not speak a significant amount of Hebrew. He said he and his Israeli-born wife had wanted to move to Israel for a long time.
“We finally reached the point in our lives where we said that if we were going to do it, we had to do it before the kids got too old,” he said. “I’m from a small family and my kids don’t have first cousins. My wife is from a pretty big family and that was missing from our lives.”
Gralnek, a Conservative Jew, both practices at Rambam Hospital and is a professor of medicine at the Technion because his hospital salary “is not enough to support you.”
“Most Israeli physicians have other jobs, such as consulting for biomedical technology companies and working for managed care groups,” he said. “You don’t starve, but you are not coming here to buy a second Mercedes. You make tradeoffs in life. It is professionally satisfying. We’re living in Israel and doing what we wanted to do. The pluses outweigh the minuses.
Although he will not be able to benefit from the fellowship, Gralnek said he wished he had it because “financial stability for the first two or three years is important. Things move slowly here in terms of getting established.”
But he said he found that Israelis “crave the American interaction with patients. I smile and ask questions and I’m cordial. Israeli physicians [tend to] have tough exteriors and patients like to be talked to and smiled at and taken care of.”
Asked if he planned to spend any time in the U.S. working to enhance his income, Gralnek said he did not.
“We made a conscious decision not to want to be dependent on American income,” he said.
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