Health Ministry Toughens Criteria for Recognizing Foreign Medical Schools

The move, aimed at ensuring proper clinical training, means Israeli med students can only take new, expanded licensing exam if their school meets OECD or other strict foreign standards

File Photo: A classroom in uzhno-Uralskiy (South Ural) State Medical University, Uzhno-Uralskiy, Russia, January 2016.
Sputnik / Aleksandr Kondratuk /

The Health Ministry is toughening its criteria for recognizing medical studies abroad, after several dozen graduates from foreign programs were licensed recently but lacked sufficient medical training.

The ministry is adding a clinical section to its licensing examination for physicians, and from now on will only recognize foreign medical schools that have passed a stringent new screening process.

Hundreds of Israelis are currently studying medicine in countries including Romania, Jordan and Moldova, which means they will not be eligible to return home and work as doctors, unless their institutions are granted special accreditation.

The change applies to students who have not yet begun their studies.

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Prof. Shaul Yatziv, director of the Health Ministry’s division for licensing medical professionals, explained that new standards are being set for those who have studied medicine abroad and will be taking local licensing exams, “in order to maintain an appropriate level of medical care in Israel, and to encourage medical students to study at proper medical schools.”

The move comes some two months after police arrested 40 doctors, interns and pharmacists who had submitted diplomas from Armenian universities to the ministry.

It emerged that they had studied in those institutions for only short periods, but still managed to pass the Israeli licensing exams and had started working as physicians and pharmacists.

Last month Yatziv mentioned serious concerns about the professional level of some foreign medical school graduates, at a meeting of the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee.

“There are thousands of Israeli medical students studying in schools that have a very low academic level,” he told the committee. “I know this not just in theory: I have traveled there to see it firsthand – to Armenia, Moldova and elsewhere. I met with ministers of health and education, with deans and rectors and students themselves. I was in classrooms and on campuses and I examined the situation thoroughly.

“What’s most worrisome is that in some of the schools, the rate of students’ clinical exposure is minuscule. They barely see any patients,” Yatziv said. “Even without getting into the illegalities here, one can say that they are learning too little and lack exposure to the most important things. If we don’t act now, then in 10 years we’ll need to set up a commission of inquiry to examine this.”

As a result of his experiences, the ministry will add a clinical part to the physicians licensing exam, which until now consisted only of a written test. In addition, Yatziv has issued more stringent criteria both for evaluating the level of medical studies in foreign schools and for obtaining a medical license in Israel.

Students who begin their medical studies abroad in 2019 will be able to take the Israeli licensing exam only if the institutions in which they are enrolled meet one of the following criteria: The school is in an OECD country; it has been accredited as part of a new initiative launched by the World Federation for Medical Education (of WFME); or the school’s clinical studies program has been approved by a recognized institution.

The WFME initiative, launched in 2018, aims to assure what it deems a proper level of instruction at medical schools all over the world. According to this scheme, schools can undergo an accreditation process by means of academic institutions in their countries that have already been certified by the WFME.

In exceptional cases, the head of the medical professions’ licensing division at the Health Ministry will be permitted to grant recognition to a medical school that does not meet the criteria if he can determine that the level of studies there meets Israeli standards.

However, he will also be able to discredit medical schools that meet the standards set in the reform, should there be suspicions that the studies don’t meet Israel’s standards.

Cases of foreign medical school graduates who began their studies before 2019 will be assessed according to current criteria.