A Health Ministry report released Wednesday says Israel is experiencing a grave shortage in healthcare professionals.
The report said that there has been an 8% drop in the number of doctors since 2000 and a staggering 40% drop in the number of nurses.
Israel currently has 3.5 doctors and 5.9 nurses for every 1000 individuals. Some 600 people become certified medical professionals every year, but only half of them graduate from Israeli training facilities.
While the number of medical students in Israel has remained largely unchanged, the number of doctors immigrating to Israel has dropped significantly. Compiled with the fact that a doctor has to undergo a seven-year residency, the ministry fears that Israel will experience an acute shortage of healthcare professionals in the coming years.
According to the Health Ministry, Israel of late 2008 had 2,915 internal medicine specialists, 2,339 pediatric specialists, 1,431 family practice specialists, 1,296 physicians who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology and 1,142 physicians who specialize in psychiatry.
The last eight year have seen a sharp decrease in the number of surgical residents, as well as in the number of trauma specialists, neonatologists and anesthesiologists. The latter two have only 166 practicing physicians.
Nursing out, dentistry in
The nursing profession did not fare better: Israel had 55,848 nurses in 2008 – 78% of whom were registered nurses (RNs) and the remaining were practical nurses (LPNs).
Only 40% of RNs underwent additional specialty training and only 1,108 new nurses were registered in 2008.
While Israel's doctor-per 100,000 people ratio is considered higher than average compared with most European Union states, it is still lower than the ratio common in Spain, Italy, Germany and Russia.
The number of nurses, however, is significantly lower compared with EU average, with only Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece faring worse.
The situation, however, is quite different in dentistry: Israel has one of the highest numbers of dentists among EU countries – almost double – with the exception of Greece.
"We need more doctors in order not to fall short of having three physicians for every 1000 people, said Dr. Hezi Levi, head of the Health Ministry's Medical Division. "The treatment given to patients today in good and responsible, but the lack of specialists can result in long waiting lists."
Among the programs the Health Ministry is trying to push in order to curb the potentially dire situation is the broadening of the training programs offered in Israel, as well as opening a fifth medical school in northern Israel.
Another endeavor explored is the possibility of "importing" anesthesiologists from Georgia. The first 10 are expected to arrive in Israel in early 2010.
As for the nursing profession, the Health Ministry and the Treasury have launched a national retraining and career change program. So far, 500 people have enlisted in the program and the ministries are planning to establish three more nursing schools in the coming year.
The Israeli Medical Association, however, said the Health Ministry is not doing enough to fight the shortage of medical professionals: "This is a very disconcerting report. We have been warning against this situation for years, but to no avail," said an IMA statement.
"The State has been complacent about this situation, failing to cultivate and preserve its human capital… The increasing shortage in doctors and the growing number of doctors who prefer private practice – which naturally offers better working conditions – will eventually harm the public healthcare system."
The IMA urged the Health Ministry to come up with a national emergency contingency aimed at training more doctors and improving the working conditions of those working for the public healthcare system.