Medical students - Alon Ron - 30102011
Medical students at the Tel Hashomer medical center this year. Photo by Alon Ron
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The medical school in Safed is slated to open its doors on Sunday, with 124 students, thus expanding the number of medical students in the country by 18% compared to last year.

The school, a branch of Bar-Ilan University, is the country's fifth medical school.

A total of 694 students are beginning medical studies at Israeli universities this year.

Of the students in Safed, 54 had started medical studies abroad, and the remaining 70 have bachelor's degrees in natural sciences.

A Bar-Ilan spokesman said that within five years, 388 students would be studying medicine in Safed. This should contribute significantly to redressing the shortage of doctors, particularly in the peripheral regions of the country.

In 2007, a committee examining the health system's manpower warned that Israel would be facing a serious shortage of doctors in the near future. A 2009 State Comptroller's Report repeated the warning.

Prior to 2009, there were nearly no changes in the number of students starting medical studies at the nation's universities - between 350 and 370 a year. In 2009, the figure jumped to 500, and this year it is increasing again, thanks to the new medical school in Safed. Any lack of doctors is not due to a lack of desire to study medicine, which is the universities' most in-demand program, with 4.1 applicants for every spot.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said he was seeking to solve the problem of students who met the admission requirements but who could not find a slot.

The new medical school's staff includes Israeli researchers who worked at American universities. It will consist of 17 senior faculty members, 23 junior faculty members and 35 clinical faculty members this year. Most of the senior faculty members committed to living in the Galilee over the next several years. Those figures are expected to more than double over the next five years, said Bar-Ilan University. Two-thirds of all staff members will be required to live in the Galilee.

The Council for Higher Education decided to launch the school in 2007, and Bar-Ilan was chosen to do so in 2010. It was started with a budget of NIS 60 million, half of which was funded by the council and the government, and half of which came from donations.