Israel’s Medical Brain Drain
by Andy Levy
Last week the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published a disturbing report suggesting that 14% of Israelis holding PhDs in the Sciences and Engineering leave Israel for three or more years and 7% of Israeli doctors move abroad. This latest report represents the most recent in a series of damning reports on Israelis leaving their home country attracted by post graduate opportunities abroad.
Reported by all the nation’s major papers; the coverage was largely pessimistic.
The so called ‘Brain Drain’ effecting Israel is not unique to our country. Most developed countries follow the same pattern; the higher the education level, the higher the likelihood of migration. Israel is no different. Where the difference does lie is that generally, Israelis show an incredibly high motivation to return.
Israelis generally feel a stronger dilemma when choosing to leave their homeland. Writing in Haaretz recently, Professor Tamar Hermann from the Open University of Israel said that it is generally much more difficult for Israelis to give up Israel as their home and very few leave Israel with the intention to leave permanently.
For most, there always is a strong desire to return home. “Few people pack their life’s belongings in advance with the aim of moving elsewhere permanently,” said Hermann.
In the field of medicine it is not unusual for my colleagues to travel abroad but I see it as a process of enrichment and they return to Israel as better physicians with experience gained from practicing abroad. I work with physicians who have worked at hospitals and universities across the USA, Canada and Europe bringing back their expertise to teach the Israeli doctors of the future. The Israeli government has increased incentives to entice academic and professional citizens to return and recent initiatives to increase world-class scientific research centers in Israel are providing new options for research. Last year alone the Israeli medical research industry showcased breakthroughs in the fields of Alzheimers, diabetes, infertility, viruses and asthma to name but a few. Israel made inroads in medical marijuana research and just across the road from the Technion, Rambam hospital is building the world’s largest fortified underground emergency hospital.
True, some of Israel’s brightest scientists are currently working abroad but let’s not forget the influx of educated and professional Olim (immigrants) who are enriching Israeli society. Both Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency run successful programs for Physicians to move to Israel and the numbers of doctors moving to Israel is steadily rising. Another interesting phenomena that the Israeli government is now capitalizing on, is those doctors who have carried out their American medical training here in Israel.
Directing one of Israel’s three American medical schools, the standard of our students has always been a sense of pride to myself and my colleagues. Our students are highly trained by some of Israel’s best scientists and physicians and they return to America with a medical education to rival some of the best medical schools across the USA. But four years in Israel, learning to love the country and developing a desire to influence Israeli society has left many students wanting to stay.
The Israeli government is currently debating changes in the regulations governing the necessary exams needed to be taken by students studying in the American Medical Schools in Israel. Easing the additional testing required to practice medicine in Israel is just one way to encourage these students to stay in the country they have grown to love. I take great pride in seeing students return, not only to practice medicine in Israel but even to teach the next generation of doctors here at the Technion.
I believe that these new moves to capitalize on the increasing popularity of American Medical Programs in Israel will immensely benefit our country’s medical system. With groundbreaking medical discoveries and world-class hospitals, Israel is an exciting and innovative location to practice medicine. Now more than ever I reflect on my move from America to Israel with pride, joy, and a profound sense of success. Medicine is evolving the world over but here in Israel, one of the fastest developing countries in the world, we are experiencing an incredibly exciting period of medical discovery and innovation.