Coming soon: Physician Assistants

Israel's medical system to branch out beyond doctors and nurses in response to emergency room overcrowding.

Tova Dvorin ,

Doctors perform surgery (illustration)
Doctors perform surgery (illustration)
Nati Shohat/Flash 90

Israel's health care system will introduce the Physician Assistant position, the Ministry of Health decided Sunday, after several years of debate over how to handle Israel's overcrowded hospitals. 

A professional committee within the ministry will offer PA courses in March. The courses will be managed by the Ministry of Health's training department, with courses primarily held at Tel HaShomer's Sheba Medical Center, with practical courses in emergency rooms nationwide. Lecturers will consist of ER doctors; the course is expected to take about six months. 

PAs will be chosen from the best paramedics nationwide; in the event the process is introduced smoothly, the first PAs in Israel will debut in September. 

Professor Arnon Afek, former Ministry of Health director, praised the move in an Army Radio interview Sunday. 

"We see potential for paramedics [to work as PAs] at emergency medical centers and as assistant anesthetists," he said. 

PAs are already a well-established profession in the US, where they typically function in roles similar to general practitioners in smaller institutions and clinics. PAs, unlike doctors, complete a truncated medical certification program - often 8 years instead of the 12+ to become a licensed physician in the American system - and, while fulfilling many of the same roles as a doctor, typically make a lower salary. PAs in the US are allowed to do first assist in surgery. They also practice in a number of surgical subspecialties, from pediatric neurosurgery to orthopaedics and more. The positions of doctor and PA overlap on a day-to-day level for most basic medical needs. 

The decision to introduce PAs to Israel also follows statistics released last month proving that health care professionals have less successful Aliyah experiences than professionals in other fields - in part due to the lack of positions for Western medical professionals such as PAs, phlebotomists, nurse practitioners, and nurse's assistants.  Just 37% of foreign medical professionals who immigrated to Israel successfully passed their medical licensing exams since 2013, and the lack of compatibility between the Israeli medical system and the American, British, Australian, and European systems has discouraged Aliyah.