medical school in Safed
The medical school in Safed. Photo by Kobi Kalmanovitz
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Students at the medical school in Safed will work as doctors' assistants and serve patients in northern hospitals as part of a new program launched by the school, Haaretz has learned.

Safed medical school, the country's fifth medical school, which opened in November as a branch of Bar-Ilan University, will place students in hospitals as doctors' assistants beginning next year. Students will work from 4 P.M. to 11 P.M. in Poriya Hospital in Tiberias, Rebecca Sieff Hospital in Safed and Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya. They will admit patients into the wards, but treatment will be administered by doctors.

Health Ministry director general Ronni Gamzu has notified hospital directors in the north that the ministry will support the project with a sum of NIS 1 million, about half the estimated cost. Gamzu wrote that this sum is significantly higher than what has been given to similar programs enabling students to take part in hospital activity in the central region. "There is no such [funding] in Sheba [Medical Center] and Ichilov [Hospital] together," Gamzu wrote.

However, the ministry is still looking for ways to finance the program, and ministry officials said "the issue is still under debate."

According to Ran Tur-Kaspa, dean of faculty in Safed, "The students will be called doctors' assistants, admit the interns to the wards and later present the cases to the doctor on evening duty, who will decide what treatment to give the patients."

Only students who complete their clinical training in internal wards will be employed as doctors' assistants.

The faculty had considered canceling a program intended for Israeli medical students abroad, who are set to begin their clinical training in northern hospitals in about a year, as these hospitals are already training students with bachelor's degrees, Tur-Kaspa said. "But following discussions we decided to continue the program that helps Israeli medical students abroad to return to Israel for their final study years," he said.

Some 50 out of 300 Israeli medical students abroad who have applied to the Safed medical school have been admitted for next year's studies. These students are planning to return to Israel for their last three years of study.

The registration process for the four-year program for students who hold a bachelor's degree is still underway.

Within four years, 200 doctors are expected to graduate from the Safed medical school. By 2015, 150 doctors are expected to graduate each year.

The ministry is hoping these doctors will alleviate the acute doctors shortage in Israel and especially in the country's outlying areas.

The hospitals affiliated with the Technion's medical school have recently begun to cooperate with the new Safed medical school, overcoming disputes about which hospitals would be affiliated with which schools. This week, Safed medical students underwent training at the Rambam Radiotherapy Institute, which is affiliated with the Technion and is the only hospital in the north providing radiation treatment to cancer patients.

Meanwhile, Bar-Ilan University has appointed 70 doctors as lecturers, instructors, professors and associate professors at the Safed medical school. University committees are working on 50 additional appointments.

The current medical school is located in a temporary campus in Safed. The cornerstone for the permanent campus building is expected to be laid in November.

The medical students in Safed have set up a student union, which is promoting a project to encourage young doctors to move to the north.

"In two years, dozens of students will graduate and we want to create attractive work and living conditions for them in the Galilee," said student union chairman Ido Lisi.