Constantly on Call: Israeli Female Medical Professionals' High-wire Act

Female medical professionals in Israel strive to succeed while maintaining families.

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They are five young Israelis at various stages of their medical careers, teeming with ambition, motivation and determination, but cognizant of the life-long balancing act that awaits them as women, wives, and mothers.

Ahead of this week's centennial celebration in Jerusalem of Hadassah - the Women's Zionist Organization of America - each of the women spoke candidly to Haaretz about maintaining that equilibrium.

"Women today are required to be 'super-women,' working a full-time job and running the household and taking care of the kids," says Gallit Coppenhagen, a 29 year-old staff nurse in the department of pediatric surgery at Hadassah University Medical Center - Ein Kerem. A native of Jerusalem, the single Coppenhagen has on what to draw: she is the daughter and granddaughter of nurses.

"I saw that there was flexibility in the number of hours and shifts that my mother worked, like nights and weekends," said Coppenhagen. "But I also felt at times that my mother was not home a lot, or that she was very tired." Nearly 14,000 women served as doctors in Israel in 2010 - some 41 percent of the country's total number, according to figures provided by Israel's Ministry of Health. The government's Central Bureau of Statistics' 2010 human resource survey indicates that women constituted approximately 73 percent of the medical industry's entire work force, spanning nurses to technicians.

Coppenhagen says a successful partnership requires a "supportive husband who will assume an active role in raising the children, and a supportive family framework." That support is critical she says, particularly for professionals like herself who assume multiple commitments. In addition to her responsibilities, Coppenhagen is also an instructional coordinator, training and mentoring student nurses. She is also pursuing a master's degree.

"The nurse of today isn't like the nurse of old," said Coppenhagen, whose mother is third-generation Jerusalemite and whose father traces his lineage to Holland at the beginning of the 1700's. "There are other missions and responsibilities that she must complete within the framework of her work that will take up her time and challenge her in raising children and the quality she spends with them and with her husband."

Inna Blumin, an immigrant from Kharkov, Ukraine, who works as a midwife at Hadassah University Medical Center, is also no stranger to her profession. She is following the footsteps of her grandmother, who also was a midwife.

"There are pressures in this modern society, and I find myself trying to balance motherhood and my profession," says Blumin, a mother of two small children, who graduated from Ben Gurion University. "You want to dedicate yourself to your family, and you also would like to advance in your career. But there are only 24 hours in a day."

"We're talking about a tremendous challenge to integrate two worlds - a wife and mother obligated to her husband and family, and a doctor committed to her patients," says Linor Shemer, a single, 28 year-old Netanya native in her second year of studies at Bar Ilan University's Faculty of Medicine in the Galilee. "I believe it is possible, but of course it will demand sacrifice and concessions."

Dr. Yael Cohen-Emanuel, a native of Nof Ayalon, near Modiin, began her residency last month in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Newly married, the 27 year-old speaks openly of the pressures inherent in her profession. She says she can't go at it alone.

"It's clear that I will need the support of my family in order to succeed with this integration," said Cohen-Emanuel. "It will probably require us both to make certain sacrifices, some of which I cannot fully estimate at this point." Renana Adani, 27, a physical therapist in the neurology department at the Hadassah University Medical Center - Ein Kerem, works closely with patients recovering from brain injuries and strokes. A single woman, Adani has chosen to concentrate her efforts on her chosen field, for the time being. But she acknowledges that a future transition to family life will force her to adapt and sharpen her career focus.

"Certainly it will require some adjustments," said Adani, a graduate of Ben Gurion University who grew up Jerusalem. "I believe I will have to choose more carefully those things that interest me in the field and invest my main energies in them. I don't believe it will make me any less a physiotherapist, and I believe I can succeed in achieving the objectives I set for myself as a woman and as a mother."

Not one of the women interviewed who spoke to Haaretz said gender played a factor in their chosen professions. For the most part, they spoke of options available to them that may not have been available to women of prior generations. It's a point not lost upon the young professionals as they chart their new paths. "I am grateful to my antecedents who paved the way," said Adani. "It is a woman's right and obligation to strive, and I am grateful for this opportunity granted to me. I am very lucky."

Yael Cohen-EmanuelCredit: Emil Salman
Renana AdaniCredit: Emil Salman
Inna BluminCredit: Emil Salman
Gallit CopenhagenCredit: Emil Salman

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