Doctors Encounter Israel ICEJ.TV
By: Nicole Yoder, ICEJ Vice President for Aid & Aliyah

With thousands of Jewish new immigrants currently pouring into Israel every month, everyone is feeling the urgency to help them get settled, even as we help with more flights for the next group of arrivals. This influx has meant new challenges for those welcoming these olim (newcomers). But it is beautiful to see how people across the country are offering their assistance.

Kibbutz Merchavia

The kibbutzim, with their pioneering ethos of settling the land, were among those who jumped at the opportunity to provide “a first home in the homeland” for many of the recent arrivals. Their embrace aims to give these immigrants a “softer landing”.

Kibbutz Merchavia, famed as the home of Golda Meir prior to her serving as Israel’s prime minister, is one such place that is welcoming newcomers. The program they offer – the only one of its kind on a kibbutz – is specially crafted to help medical professionals learn Hebrew with a focus on medical terminology, as well as complete a re-certification course so they can quickly serve in the medical field in Israel.

Classroom briefing

When we arrived for a recent tour, our hosts swiftly moved chairs and tables aside in the main Hebrew classroom and set out pastries and drinks for our visit with the immigrant doctors studying there. We discovered that becoming “recertified” in the medical field in Israel takes quite some effort. Each doctor we spoke to required very different, and often complex, recertification processes depending on their area of specialty.

Karla*, a dentist by profession, arrived in August 2022. Fortunately, she completed the first two levels of Hebrew and received her license just six months after arrival, enabling her to quickly start working in a private clinic. When asked for her initial impressions, Karla responded:

Kindergartens at Kibbutz

“We like our life here, especially the kindergartens. That alone would perhaps be a reason to remain in Kibbutz Merchavia! There are many interesting cultural events, a good social life, lots of surrounding assistance and friends. The next challenge will be the medical Hebrew classes in Haifa that we must do.”

As kibbutz life came highly recommended, Karla was thrilled to be accepted into this special kibbutz program, describing it as “a dream come true”. Happily, she also has many extended family members who arrived before her, so her six-year-old son, Leo*, has many cousins around.

Leo also has a local playmate, Mikhail*, who is six-years-old as well and the son of new immigrant Mila. The boys have quickly settled in and love the wide-open spaces and warm weather. For Mila, a dermatologist, it will take some time to get her career back on course. First, being a city-girl, she was not sure she wanted to live on a kibbutz. However, Igor*, her husband, argued in favour of it saying: “You’ll be with other medical professionals who are going through the same thing as you are.”

Igor was a manager in a company before coming to Israel last September, but right now he is studying Hebrew and doing rather menial work in a factory in Afula. To Mila’s surprise, he is really enjoying the less stressful job. Later, she figures, he will look for more challenging work.

Doctors in the program

“The [kibbutz medical] program is wonderful”, said Mila. “At first, I didn’t like the living conditions, but the help I’ve received was more important. The most challenging thing so far is that I’m not a doctor yet, and I have quite a way to go. First, I must complete the 5-month preparatory course… After passing the exam, I must complete a 6-month internship before I’ll be licensed. Only then, can I start work on the specialization in dermatology.” “Medicine is quite different here”, Mila explained. “Because I only had 5 years of experience, my way will be long and hard. On the other side, I’ve learned a new language quite quickly. Also, I feel a new sense of freedom here that I still haven’t taken in yet. We’re still discovering and enjoying. I want to say thank you for all that you do for us. ”Though still uncertain where they will settle permanently, Mila knows her future lies in the city, not in the countryside!

The ICEJ is delighted to ease the way for these medical professionals by sponsoring the courses for the licensing process. We know this aid is essential, both for them and for Israel, as more medical professionals are urgently needed here. In addition, when we heard about the well-worn condition of the living quarters at Kibbutz Merchavia, we stepped in to help renovate the immigrant homes to make them more comfortable for the new arrivals.

Sasha also arrived last year, following her only daughter who came on a Jewish Agency youth program and stayed. Since she is widowed and her parents have passed on, it made sense for Sasha to be with her daughter. Our whole conversation with her was done in Hebrew, which we found very impressive given the short time she has been in the country. She confided that “the secret is my amazing ulpan teacher – the best in the country!”

Sasha arrived in Israel with 14 years of experience as a psychiatric doctor. Though she received her certification from the Ministry of Health, she still has to do six months of internships with peer supervision. If they give her a favourable opinion, she can skip the required licensing exam and receive her general medical license. The next stage would be to do an internship for her specialty of psychiatry – the longest of all the internships at 6-7 years. She is hopeful that with good recommendations, the internship will be shortened. All these requirements are rather daunting, but her daughter is happy here, and all her husband’s family are in Israel. So, she is determined to press on.

As we returned to Jerusalem, I was reminded again of how much courage and grit it takes to pick up one’s life and start all over again in a new country. One must be resolute and work hard to begin everything afresh. We salute these doctors for their hard work and wish them well in their studies. It is such a joy to help them face and overcome these challenges. This would not be possible without the generosity of our many Christian friends worldwide. Thank you so much!

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