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Thousands of Students to Strike Over Physical Therapy Crisis

1,000 students to strike at Education building over internship crisis; 7,000 medical and health sciences students to join in solidarity.
By Tova Dvorin and Nir Weiss
First Publish: 4/7/2014, 6:40 PM / Last Update: 4/7/2014, 7:24 PM

Taking to the streets: students strike over internships
Taking to the streets: students strike over internships
Shaul Kaner

Twenty days have passed since Physical Therapy students across Israel began a national strike - which will come to a climax on Tuesday in a mass protest outside the Council for Higher Education (CHE). 

The Council of Higher Education in Israel regulates the number of available internships for students, who need to complete 1,000+ hours of clinical work to graduate the four-year Bachelor's program. But due to a shortage in available internship positions - a crisis strikers say the Council has known about for some time - hundreds of students could be left jobless, unable to graduate.

Strikes have continued over the past several weeks, and included heated meetings with CHE officials and the Ministry of Education. Now, students say, the fate of their future is in the hands of the two government organizations. 

"Physiotherapy students demand that the CHE and its leader, Education Minister [Shai Piron] to take responsibility for higher education studies in Israel," a statement students released reads. The students also demand that the CHE maintains the professionalism of the profession by ensuring internships and funding appropriate training. 

The Medical Students' Association has also decided to strike Tuesday morning, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm, in solidarity with the struggle for physical therapy students.

"We are troubled to see how the process of privatization continues to wear down everything that is good in our profession in this country," a statement from the Association declares. "How academic considerations fall in the face of greed. How, despite the recommendations of committees and experts in the field, economic considerations and private interests continue to dictate reality."

"We, the Student Association, strike in solidarity with physical therapy students across the country," the statement continues, urging the CHE to implement changes to the system immediately, "rather than drag out the issue for years to come, with a fatal blow to current and future physical therapists." 

In addition to a medical student strike, Faculty of Health departments in major universities across Israel will close Tuesday in soldarity with the strike, adding the dissent of over 7,000 current students in a clear message to the CHE. More than 1,000 students are expected, in addition to that, to join the strike outside the CHE office. Strikers will be half-dressed in lab coats, demonstrating their incomplete training if funding for internships is cut. Students continue to stress that a lack of practical training will severely compromise the quality of healthcare in Israel. 

Uri Reshtick, leader of the Physical Therapy Students' Association, declared Monday night that further action will be taken if the strike is unsuccessful.

"If the students' demands will not be met, the student union would not hesitate to use the tools at its disposal - including an appeal to the High Court," Reshtick stated.

Top athletes are also slated to join the protests, in solidarity with the professionals who provide them care. They will hold signs saying "Physical Therapy is part of the game."