pathologist
A half-empty auditorium during a conference for pathologists in Tel Hashomer on May 8, 2011. Photo by David Bachar
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The shortage of Israeli pathologists could result in delayed treatment for cancer patients, the head of the Israel Medical Association's pathology division said yesterday, amid intermittent labor sanctions by doctors that are due to resume after Independence Day.

Outpatient clinics are expected to be closed Thursday at all public hospitals north of Tel Aviv and at Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva and Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer.

The medical association's Dr. Judith Sandbank, who is also a pathologist at Assaf Harofeh Hospital at the Tzrifin military base, said the excessive workload of Israeli pathologists is prolonging the time it takes for patients to get test results, which she said could be critical when it comes to cancerous growths if treatment is delayed.

"Pathologists are the only ones qualified to diagnose malignant tumors," Sandbank said at an IMA-sponsored conference on the shortage of pathologists, adding that the situation is especially serious at hospitals in outlying areas.

The conference, which took place at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, drew many of the country's pathologists, causing a countrywide disruption of services in that field.

Doubleworkload

Israel needs to increase the number of pathologist jobs in the country by 53 percent, representatives of the Ergo Consulting Group, which advises clients on organizational management issues, said at the conference.

Ergo said that on average, Israeli pathologists do double the work of their counterparts in other Western countries.

If nothing is done to address the shortage, the number of pathologists will decline by 10 percent, to 107, within five years, according to medical association projections.

In addition to conducting autopsies, pathologists also analyze tissues and cells to diagnose cancer and other diseases.

In recent negotiations between the IMA and the Finance Ministry, the medical association demanded incentives to recruit pathologists, including a special program for pathologists who agree to forgo private practice and work full-time in a public hospital, as well as regulations guaranteeing medical residents jobs and specific salary terms.

For every 100,000 people, Israel has 1.96 pathologists, a far lower proportion than the 4.43 pathologists in the United States.

The Israel Medical Association has characterized pathology, along with anesthesiology and intensive care, as specialties in which the shortages of doctors could also adversely affect other specialties.

The IMA also said there were shortages in other fields, including internal medicine, surgery, neonatal care, rehabilitative medicine, geriatrics and emergency medicine.

"Pathology is not an elite specialty addressing the needs of a small percentage of the population of the country," said Sandbank. "It is the foundation of medicine and without us, other specialties could not function."