Physician assistant-in-training Talia Subin, 25, wanted to do her senior rotation in Israel. That did not prove easy to arrange, since Israel does not have physician assistants, or PAs for short.
“I called a bunch of hospitals there, but no one knew what a physician assistant was,” said the Englewood resident, who is finishing a 32-month master’s program at Touro College in New York.
Little did she realize she would be a trailblazer for the profession which, since 1992 in New Jersey, will grant her a license to practice medicine under the supervision of a physician – which means that she may conduct physical examinations, obtain medical histories, diagnose and treat illnesses, order and interpret tests, provide counsel on preventative healthcare, assist in surgery, and prescribe medications.
Subin was about to give up on the Israel idea when a friend told her about Dr. Norman Loberant, a United States-born radiologist at Western Galilee Hospital, a 700-bed facility in Nahariya. She emailed him in September and began her six-week externship on Oct. 10, thanks to the Partnership 2000 program linking the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey (JFNNJ) to Nahariya.
Loberant is a member of the medical task force for Partnership 2000 in North Jersey and also with a consortium of 16 central U.S. cities. Among several medical exchange programs he coordinates are month-long externships at his hospital for fourth-year students from various medical schools in the United States.
“Over the last four or five years we have had a number of medical students, mostly from the Central Consortium,” said Loberant. “We build a program for them according to their interests. So when I was approached by Talia, I immediately said ‘yes’ because I’m aware of physician assistants from working in the United States, where they are an integral part of the medical team. I said she’d be treated exactly as a fourth-year medical student.”
When Subin told him she was from North Jersey, Loberant suggested she contact Dr. Deane Penn, head of the JFNNJ Partnership 2000 medical task force, and Sarit Ron, a Partnership 2000 board member.
“Sarit arranged for a scholarship for me to stay at the dorm for international students at the hospital there,” said Subin, a graduate of Ma’ayanot Yeshiva High School in Teaneck and Rutgers University.
Loberant took care of all the paperwork to forge an official alliance between Western Galilee and Touro, paving the way for future externships. “According to her interests, I patched together a program for her over six weeks, half in cardiology and half in emergency medicine,” he said.
Although physician assistants are not recognized in Israel, Loberant did not experience anything but enthusiasm from the hospital’s staff about Subin’s arrival. “She was welcomed as a student,” he said.
“As I tell everyone, it was amazing, and I learned so much. I felt the doctors in Israel truly wanted me to learn,” Subin said. “Everything they did, they described carefully as they were doing it.”
She had an advantage over most other externs in that she speaks Hebrew fluently, thanks to her Israeli mother, “but it’s a different Hebrew than you speak in the hospital,” she said. “I had to write up notes and learn medical terminology, so it improved my professional Hebrew. And in the emergency department, I learned to deal with Arabs, Russians, Druze – a variety of cultures.”
Throughout the six weeks, doctors and nurses at Western Galilee were eager to learn more about the PA field, and offered Subin housing and meals at their homes.
“Everyone in the north was so accommodating and helpful,” she said. “When I first arrived, a couple of people from Partnership 2000 helped me get settled and showed me the town and around the hospital, including the new ‘bunker’ emergency department.”
The bomb-proof facility, the only one of its kind in Israel, proved invaluable during the 2006 deluge of rockets from Lebanon, during which Western Galilee treated 1,872 casualties. “Anything I needed or wanted, they were always there for me. I felt it was like my home,” she said.
Subin would like to move to Israel one day, but says she is realistic about how long it could take for PAs to be officially recognized. “I think Israel can benefit from this profession, and I will try to do everything I can to facilitate this,” she said.
Loberant has informed JFNNJ that he would be happy to arrange other externships for senior PA students, and will support any initiative that the American Academy of Physician Assistants may want to launch in the Israeli medical establishment.
Penn said he is interested in coordinating more externships at Western Galilee. “They have very fine doctors there,” he said. Penn may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.