Nefesh B’Nefesh courts U.S. physicians
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Nefesh B’Nefesh courts U.S. physicians

Is the stereotypical American Jewish mother ready to alter her mantra from “my son the doctor” to “my son the Israeli doctor”?

The time may have arrived, if aliyah facilitator Nefesh B’Nefesh is successful in its quest to lure North American and British physicians to settle in the Promised Land.

It’s been a year since NBN inaugurated its Physician Aliyah Program in response to a growing shortage of Israeli medical doctors, said Daniella Slasky, NBN’s director of employment.

The shortage stems from several factors, including a senior population increase, the retirement of immigrant doctors from the former Soviet Union, and a trend of doctors leaving patient care for jobs in hi-tech, bio-tech, research, and management. While there are approximately 300 graduates from Israeli medical schools each year, it will take twice that many to keep up the current ratio of 3.5 physicians for every 1,000 citizens.

The NBN program, with funding from the Legacy Foundation, started offering need-based grants of up to $25,000 per participant, in addition to monthly income supplements. These grants are available for doctors under the age of 45 who have completed their training in North America or the U.K. and are willing to practice at least nine months a year in Israel.

“The age limit is because we’ve found younger physicians are burdened with heavy medical school debt and are often paying day school tuitions on top of that,” said Slasky. Those who do not qualify for grants still receive assistance with licensing transfer and other paperwork.

Though no New Jersey doctors have yet applied to the program, Slasky said New Jersey residents are among some 206 physicians who made inquiries into aliyah since the program was announced, up from 24 during the same period the previous year. Thirteen of the 28 physicians who arrived in Israel through NBN from the U.K. and North America in 2008 qualified for the grant program.

“It has sparked tremendous interest,” said Slasky.

On Sunday, March 15, NBN is holding an Aliyah Seminar for Medical Professionals & Students from 1 to 5 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel-JFK Airport. Officials from Israel’s Ministry of Health will be offering information about medical licensing and certification, job trends, and career opportunities. Representatives of Israeli hospitals and national health-care plans also will be recruiting potential employees in all related fields.

There is a particular need for specialists in family medicine, pediatrics, female gynecologists, geriatrics, radiology, internal medicine, nuclear medicine, anesthesiology, neonatology, nephrology, neurology, pathology, and surgery.

Slasky acknowledged that salaries in Israel are significantly lower than in the United States. Under Israel’s socialized health-care system, physicians are paid according to the number of patients they see. However, she added, earning potential is often increased by maintaining private practices in or outside of Israel, or working remotely for an overseas practice, as many American radiologists in Israel do.

The government offers intensive Hebrew-language classes for medical professionals when there is sufficient demand.

“The doctors who have come to Israel with us make quite a smooth transition into the Israeli medical system,” said Slasky. “Many are thriving; one oleh [immigrant] is running a whole department at Hadassah [Medical Center].”

That physician, Moshe Mark Levin, made aliyah from Fair Lawn in 2002. Until that time he was chief of oncology-hematology at Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan, and after emigrating became head of hematology at Hadassah’s Mount Scopus campus. Levin’s face appears in NBN’s recent ads for the March 15 seminar.

In an interview with Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz when the Physician Aliyah Program was launched last year, Levin said he had delayed immigrating to Israel for 15 years because of concerns that an Israeli physician’s salary would not have been sufficient to support his wife and four children. He told Ha’aretz that “$60,000 may have convinced me to come earlier.”

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