Foreign medical students no longer allowed to study in Israel

The government’s decision was made in order to grow more local talent, as many are pushed out and go abroad to study, sometimes never to return.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

This coming academic year will mark the last class of new foreign medical school students who will graduate from Israeli universities, as the Ministry of Health has decided that its priority is to groom local talent from 2023 onwards.

“There was no choice,” Ben Gurion University (BGU) President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz told The Jerusalem Post. “We need more Israelis to study medicine here.”

The number of physicians trained has not kept up with the country’s population growth, with Israel ranking near the bottom of doctors per capita among OECD countries, especially in the periphery, the Post noted.

The move is not totally unexpected, given that the Council for Higher Education had recommended it already in 2018. A significant number of Israeli students who study abroad do not return.

The decision will open 130 more spaces annually in BGU, Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which have run English-language schools for decades, mainly filled with American and Canadian students.

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The Health Ministry also intends to increase the number of classes over the next three years to 300, which would mean 1,200 new Israeli doctors will graduate per year rather than the current 900.

The decision poses a challenge for the Israeli schools in that American students pay the same amount of tuition as they would in their home country, which is approximately $40-50,000 annually. In contrast, medical school in Israel, subsidized by the government, is only about NIS 13,000 ($4,000) per year for Israeli students.

According to the website Doctors Only, it was the sharp drop in revenue that led the Israeli universities to oppose the move until now.

As agreed upon by the Finance Ministry, the Israeli medical schools will therefore receive compensation of NIS 58,000 per student.

TAU’s program, established 45 years ago, is the most venerabled. Its executive dean, Dr. Stephen Lazar, was not enthused by the decision, as reflected in a letter he sent to the current crop of foreign students, the Post reported.

Calling it a “political decision,” he said that the school’s “graduates have been ambassadors for Israel, and they showcase the excellence of medical education at Israeli institutions. Demonstrated successful cooperation of medical institutions in the U.S., Canada and Israel were not considered in this political action.”

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Chamovitz’s predecessor, Prof. Rivka Carmi, pointed to a different problem that has yet to be addressed.

“There is a shortage of physicians and a lack of hospitals and professors available for clinical teaching,” she told the Post. “The lack of hospitals for clinical teaching is the bottleneck. A second hospital, in addition to Soroka-University Medical Center, is planned for Beersheba, but that will be built in a decade, if we’re lucky.”

The only hospital built in Israel in the last 40 years was Samson Assuta in Ashdod, which opened its doors in 2017.

“It was the right decision not to accept foreign medical students in the future. I think there is no choice but to be in favor, if you think of the needs of Israel. I say this with a heavy heart,” she added.