The recent announcement of a new initiative to distribute $60,000 grants to doctors from English-speaking countries who make aliyah raises an obvious question: If such incentives are required to bring top medical caregivers to the Jewish state, just how bad is Israel’s health care industry?
In fact, this program for doctors from the United States and Great Britain — sponsored by Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Legacy Heritage Fund in collaboration with the Israeli health and absorption ministries — highlights the state of medicine in Israel, which is at its strongest point ever and has earned the well-deserved prestige of being a global leader.
This is not an accomplishment that has come quickly or easily.
When I began in my post at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center nearly two decades ago, the norm for seriously ill Israeli patients with means was to ask where outside Israel they should go for the best care. Lacking confidence in the Israeli health care system, patients routinely sought doctors in New York, Miami, Los Angeles and elsewhere.
Today the opposite is true. Now in Israel, we regularly get cases of supreme complexity in our operating rooms and medical departments, even from patients living outside of Israel.
What has so dramatically and positively transformed Israel’s reputation as a medical provider?
The answer lies within the same commitment to excellence that has inspired Israeli successes and global leadership in many fields. Slowly but surely we have improved the infrastructure of our hospitals and the standards of quality that are key for providing cutting-edge medicine in the 21st century.
Much of the credit goes to massive injections of support — moral and financial — from friends of Israel overseas who appreciate that a Jewish state is a most appropriate place to act as a beacon for medical excellence.
Most important, we have relied on that same Zionist ethos of dedicated labor and belief in a dream that has enabled us to add top-level medicine to the feats of this remarkable little nation of ours.
This transformation can be seen in the physical infrastructure of Israeli hospitals and the rising quality of our primary resource: our doctors and nurses.
Our major medical centers have acquired the type of equipment found in leading Western hospitals. All the diagnostic machinery and therapeutic modalities that characterize major clinical and research institutions in advanced nations now have become the standard in Israeli medicine.
Thus in almost every area, Israel’s leading hospitals offer the types of advanced technology that in previous decades might have been available only abroad.
Institutionally, within our hospitals and health systems, and from directives issued by our Ministry of Health, we have strengthened our commitment to quality control and performance.
On the human resource level, Israel has cultivated homegrown talent with medical schools that rival the best in the West. In addition, most Israeli doctors participate in fellowships and post-doctoral studies beyond our borders, typically at leading universities in the United States.
Responding to an expected shortage of medical personnel worldwide, Israel is taking steps to limit its impact at home.
Of course we also have been aided by an influx
of talent from the diaspora. Despite popular perception, within the masses of emigrants from the former Soviet Union have come many skilled clinicians, medical researchers and accomplished biotechnologists who have contributed enormously toward raising the bar throughout the Israeli health care and bioresearch communities.
Emigrants of many other countries have joined our workforce, and there is no doubt the added international flavor of our hospitals and doctors’ offices has been a positive development.
As a result of these and many other advances, Jerusalem and other Israeli cities now draw the most highly esteemed figures in health care worldwide to medical conferences in Israel. Procedures and strategies researched and designed within our hospitals’ halls are taught at symposia around the world.
Painfully, some of the lessons we have to teach the world are the outgrowths of our nation’s wars and conflicts, as our experiences have made us experts in dealing with mass casualty incidents and rehabilitating victims of terrorism. Yet in today’s tense global climate, these experiences are vital for the provision of health care, and we are proud to be able to educate others in being prepared for such eventualities even as we pray they never come to pass.
So while we look forward to welcoming new doctors and nurses to Israel — as we welcome all emigrants from around the globe — the world should be confident that as our 60th anniversary approaches, Israeli medicine is just one more manifestation of our nation’s proud legacy of excellence and ingenuity.
Dr. Jonathan Halevy is the director general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. This piece was written for JTA.