TAU to Review Rule That Makes Medical Students Prove Their Sanity

Prof. Shlomo Vinker of the Israel Association of Family Physicians says family doctors have decided to refuse to sign such forms.

Tel Aviv University is to review a controversial procedure that requires medical school applicants across Israel to hand in a form, signed by a doctor, attesting to their good mental health.

Prof. Shlomo Vinker of the Israel Association of Family Physicians says family doctors have decided to refuse to sign such forms.

The university's decision to set up a review committee was taken after Prof. Vinker filed an official complaint against the procedure. It was brought to his attention that doctors are asked to sign a form saying that "the applicant is in good health and does not suffer from an illness that could be described as mental, which could risk the well-being of others or affect their judgment in a way that would at some point prevent them from working in the medical profession."

"Family doctors are asked to convey their opinion of someone's ability to work as a doctor seven years later, after they graduate, and we're unable to do that," said Prof. Vinker. "We have decided that from now on we won't sign these forms.

"It is a valid question to ask whether someone who is HIV positive or clinically depressed is fit for medical studies," he added, "but it's not the family doctor's job to deal with it."

The dean of Tel Aviv University's medical school, Prof. Joseph Makori, has decided to set up a panel to review the procedure and decide how it should be amended.

The procedure was also judged unlawful by the Israeli Medical Association's legal department. It said that medical school applicants, who are required to sign a confidentiality waiver form, may ask their family doctor for their medical record, which includes information about illnesses and treatments. But family doctors cannot be expected to take responsibility for their patients' long-term medical condition, it said.

Prof. Eran Leitersdorf, head of the forum of medical school deans, said: "Applicants have been required to demonstrate physical and mental fitness for some years and if the procedure needs changing, we'll address the issue at the next meeting of the deans forum."

According to Israeli law, a physical or mental condition does not automatically disqualify a doctor from practicing medicine.

Some family physicians have argued that only extreme medical conditions like psychosis or a serious disturbance requiring forced hospitalization should disqualify an applicant. "If everyone who suffers from depression is banned from practicing medicine we will have a significant shortage of doctors in this country," said one doctor who asked to remain anonymous.

The Health Ministry has a committee that treats medical practitioners whose mental health has deteriorated and who require chronic psychiatric treatment and, in some cases, hospitalization. The committee is authorized to suspend a doctor's license until the end of treatment. It deals with a few dozen patients a year, although the actual number of doctors who take psychiatric medications is believed to be much higher - close to the 8-percent average among Israeli adults.

Earlier this year, Haaretz reported that the Israel Association of Family Physicians had launched a campaign against the multitude of forms they are asked to sign.

"Family doctors are requested to sign more and more increasingly surreal forms," said Dr. Alon Karni, who is dealing with the issue at the association. "These include medical fitness for membership of youth movements and participation in organized trips abroad, for sleeping in student accommodation, child adoption, and positions in public administration as well as in private businesses."

Last week, the association protested a decision to obligate orchestra musicians to provide medical fitness forms ahead of a trip to the United States.

"This is becoming ridiculous," Karni said, "and it's making us look ridiculous. In this case, for example, the thought that a doctor is able to predict a medical school applicant's mental or physical health in a few years' time is not serious.

"It wastes the family doctor's time and taxpayers' money," he added. "The victims are patients with real problems, who have to wait longer because time is wasted on nonsense. What's more, these forms have absolutely no legal validity."