Doctor of What? In Israel, Some Practitioners of Alternative Medicine Buy Themselves a Title

For a little as $2,600 you can receive a degree in complementary medicine from the United States or India and put ‘Dr.’ in front of your name, without having to spend any time on campus

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A reflexology session in Tel Aviv.
A reflexology session in Tel Aviv. Credit: David Bachar

People looking online for alternative medical treatment will find no shortage of caregivers claiming extensive training and knowledge. The catch is that many of those receiving degrees from overseas got them from institutions that are neither recognized by Israel’s Education Ministry nor offer any direct instruction.

Take Dr. Tal Kabesa. According to her website, she is not just a medical entrepreneur but “an expert in integrated and mediated pediatrics, one of the founders of integrated medicine for children in Israel.”

But Kabesa is not a medical doctor. Nor is Avner Sulima, who presents himself as a “doctor of Chinese medicine, and expert in gynecology and pediatric diseases.” Dr. Dafna Lev is an “expert in natural medicine, sport and nutrition,” and Rivka Marom has the title doctor and says she is an “expert in transpersonal psychology.” She is not only a psychologist, but also a medium.

The list of alternative doctors in Israel is very long, and many, including Kabesa, got their degree from the same place: A company called Doctorant, which is headed by Arik Leshem of Ramat Yishai, a community in northern Israel.

In recent years Doctorant has become the go-to-place for people seeking a quick and easily obtained degree in alternative, or complementary, medicine. They want the title “doctor,” even if their degree doesn’t formally entitle them to any pay or other benefits. What it does do in project a sense of expertise to prospective patients and others who don’t investigate further.

Doctorant, which acts as an online broker between Israeli students and a handful of such institutions, says it offers a host of advantages to students who choose to pursue a degree through it.

“Because the studies are in Hebrew, the process is convenient and it can be done from the student’s home; there’s no need to travel abroad; previous studies are recognized; a full exemption from study requirements can be obtained by showing relevant documents; there is a flexible [study] track; there are no time limits; and costs are low,” Doctorant explains.

But the degrees in alternative medicine granted by the institutions Doctorant works with are not recognized in Israel - not by the Education Ministry and not by the Health Ministry.

Moreover, an interview with Leshem raises serious doubts about the quality of training the programs offer.

Students are not required to ever attend an on-campus program at the institutions, which are also based in the United States and India. While there are also programs in Israel that offer distance-learning degrees, students also get instruction in face-to-face sessions with local advisers affiliated with the degree-granting institution. In the programs Leshem offers, there are local instructors, but they have no connection to the institution granting the doctorate. Instead, they are employed by Leshem, who makes money by serving as a middleman between the universities and the students.

“We aren’t aided by the supervisors of the colleges that grant the doctorate,” says Leshem. “They [the students] work with the candidates in their countries, and we provide all the support and counselling.”

On the website, Leshem is introduced as “Dr. Arik Leshem, ND,” the ND standing for doctor of naturopathy, a branch of alternative medicine that incorporates homeopathy, herbalism, and acupuncture, as well as diet and lifestyle counseling. Leshem says his own doctorate is from Clayton University in the United States and that he did his doctorate with the approval of the Education Ministry.

As for his doctoral degree, Leshem explains, “A private university that isn’t recognized in Israel for wage purposes is not subject to the instructions and criteria set by the Education Ministry, which does not reduce the legality of the use of the title accompanied by the person’s name, as long as they do not pretend to be a civil servant with the title of doctor and do not use the title to receive additional salary [benefits] from the government.”

Getting a degree in alternative, or complementary medicine through Doctorant will typically cost only about 10,600 shekels to 18,000 shekels ($2,650-4,700).As for the fees he takes for the programs, Leshem says, “It is none of your business.”

Most of the graduates who used his service received degrees from an institution called the Mind Body Medical University in California. A web search doesn’t produce any institution by that name currently awarding degrees, but Leshem has an explanation: “The university ceased operations after the laws about privately operated universities in California were toughened. The university you are speaking about told us they had decided to temporarily not continue operations for now,” Leshem said.

He says that since that decision was made in December 2014, “you won’t find a single graduate from the date of the closure till today.”

None of the graduates approached by TheMarker agreed to be interviewed — most of conversations ended with the interviewee hanging up on the reporter. To their credit most, including Leshem, acknowledge that the degrees are not recognized in Israel, but own up to it only if asked directly.

On her website, Kabesa does not hide that her doctorate is in natural and mind/body medicine (PhD and MbMD). But she does not say that the degree is from an American university and is not recognized in Israel.

Kabesa describes herself as a “multidisciplinary expert in complementary medicine and with diagnostic and treatment experience of over 18 years, formerly a senior lecturer in the Meirav school [of alternative medicine] of the Maccabi [HMO] and the Open University for 16 years.” She also is “a scientific editor of books on children’s nutrition.” One might think she was a degreed physician.

She has developed and now runs a two-year program at the Reidman College for Complementary and Integrative Medicine in Tel Aviv under a track to train “consultants for integrated children’s medicine.”

“Come and acquire the tools of integrated children’s medicine and specialize in treating children,” states the website and Facebook page of the college. “The training provides you with the tools for treating children with developmental, behavioral and other problems.”

The problem is that the program is not recognized by the Health Ministry, the Israel Medical Association or the Israel Pediatric Association.

“Reidman College is not recognized by the Council on Higher Education and professions recognized by the Health Ministry are not taught within its framework,” the ministry made clear in response to a request from TheMarker, saying it would ask Reidman for further clarifications about the course involved.

“The professions in complementary medicine taught [by Reidman] do not entitle their graduates to a license or certificate from the Health Ministry. This is also true of the course offered in the advertisement we received — these are studies in a field that is not recognized or regulated by the Health Ministry,” the ministry warned.

The ministry said that while the law does not necessarily require that only those with licenses offer certain types of treatments, but it does bar practitioners from deceiving the public with misleading titles and degrees. This is particularly true and serious in the case of a program like “integrated children’s medicine,” noting that the use of the title “doctor” by someone who is not a medical doctor in such cases is illegal.

The IMA also said it took such possibly deceptive advertising very seriously and was looking into the legal aspects of the matter and whether they in anyway endangered the health of patients involved.

In fact, this week, as a result of queries by TheMarker, the Health Ministry sent a warning to Reidman and demanded that the college make clear to its graduates that they do not have a legal certificate and they must be extremely careful in making use of such professional terminology in order not to deceive the public.

The ministry also told Reidman that the use of the title “children’s medicine consultant” could be seen as deceptive and suggested the school use a title that “leaves no doubt that this is not a physician.”

Reidman College declined to comment.

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