Text size

A program that Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has developed jointly with universities in London and Nicosia, under which foreign medical students will do their residencies at Sheba (as reported by Dan Even in Wednesday's Haaretz ), exploits state infrastructure for a purpose that does not serve the public and could even undermine the quality of Israeli medicine.

The first to suffer will be Israeli medical students, especially those from Tel Aviv University who rely on the hospital, because Sheba is one of the best and most diverse hospitals at which to intern. The deans of the country's medical schools, who oppose the plan, are right to do so, because residency, which takes place at the patient's bedside, is the most important part of a doctor's training.

Given the overcrowding that already exists at the medical schools and the severe shortage of doctors in Israel, reducing Israeli students' options for interning is liable to further reduce the supply of future doctors.

Sheba's management claims the program confers "a dimension of excellence and a certificate of honor on the Israeli health system and its hospitals," while also undermining British efforts to impose an academic boycott on Israel.

These are bizarre arguments. The boycott has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue, and it seems doubtful that the residency program would undermine the effort anyway. Moreover, the Israeli health system and its medical centers are already renowned worldwide for their levels of excellence; they don't need further confirmation.

Another claim made by Sheba and the Health Ministry - that the additional revenue this program will bring the hospital will be used to improve the residency program for Israelis and train additional clinical teachers - is equally dubious. Israel's largest hospitals have been operating as private profit centers for quite some time now on the theory that their profits will help the patients.

But meanwhile, medical tourism is growing and private medical services are taking over more and more of the facilities and manpower that are supposed to serve the taxpayer. The wards and even the corridors are overflowing, while there has been no significant increase in the number of doctors and nurses.

Given the shortage of doctors and the overcrowding at the medical schools, the only solution is for the government, the universities and the hospitals to change their order of priorities. Their goal now must be to increase the number of medical students and to create the appropriate conditions both for training them in Israel and for integrating them into the local job market.