Interns at Haifa's Rambam Hospital
Interns at Haifa's Rambam Hospital Photo by Hagai Frid
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Facing severe doctor shortages, the Israeli Medical Association's Scientific Council has for the first time approved part-time internships in specialties where there is now a shortfall of doctors: anesthesiology, geriatrics, rehabilitation medicine and pathology.

The council aims to encourage new doctors - nearly half of whom are women - to go into these fields by making entry easier for those with young children who are seeking part-time employment.

The new program is based on a model suggested three years ago by the Israel Society of Anesthesiologists. The part-time interns are to work two days a week less than their full-time colleagues, without the possibility of shortened hours on their work days. During the first six months, they will work a full schedule so they can learn the specialty, then shift to three-day work weeks. The internship period will last an average of six-and-a- half years instead of the regular five.

The new model allows part-time interns to work half the shifts required of full-time doctors, and they may take on extra shifts in the afternoon in proportion to their part-time hours. The number of doctors who participate in the plan depends on the agreement of department directors and the size of the units.

Many Western nations already offer internships with flexible hours, including Britain, where the practice has been in place for three years. The plan requires changes in regulations to be signed by the prime minister and acting health minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The medical student population in Israel is changing, and today close to half the students are women, some of whom give birth after completing medical school," says Prof. Benjamin Drenger, chairman of the Israel Society of Anesthesiologists and director of the orthopedic anesthesiology department of Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem. "Young doctors want to raise their children at the same time that they complete their internships. This is one way to encourage medical school graduates to choose anesthesiology as a specialty," Drenger said.

Haaretz reported in March that Israeli medical school deans decided to shorten medical studies by a half-year to cope with the national shortage of doctors. The change, to begin in the coming university year, will include a multiple-choice final exam such as the one used in American medical schools.

The current wage agreement with the doctors' union grants additional payments in specialties where there is a shortage of practitioners, including general surgery, internal medicine, pathology, geriatrics, child psychiatry, emergency medicine, nuclear medicine, and children's hematology and oncology, and especially high pay increases in specialties with acute doctor shortages such as anesthesiology, general and children's emergency medicine and neonatology.

There are 3.38 doctors (up to age 65 ) for every thousand people in Israel, according to 2010 statistics. The State Comptroller's report for 2009 warned that a 19-percent decrease was expected by 2020, when there will be only 2.76 doctors for every thousand people in the population.

The Health Ministry said "the program under discussion was developed in accordance with the conclusions of a ministry personnel report, and authorized in recent months. The Health Ministry seeks to broaden the plan to include all the specialties facing a doctor shortage."