Doctors, bring your documents!

Doctors, bring your documents!

For medical professionals, the road to Israel runs through north Jersey expo

American medical professionals meet with Israeli HMO recruiters at the 2019 Aliyah MedEx. (Jenna Bascom)
American medical professionals meet with Israeli HMO recruiters at the 2019 Aliyah MedEx. (Jenna Bascom)

Some of Israel’s infamous bureaucracy is coming to New Jersey on Sunday and Monday — but don’t worry, it’s being imported to make life easier for medical professionals planning to emigrate to Israel.

The bureaucrats will be appearing at the Aliyah MedEx — that’s short for “medical expo” — taking place at the Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe on Sunday and Monday. (See below.) The expo is sponsored by Nefesh b’Nefesh, the organization devoted to helping Jews from North America make aliyah to Israel. The expo is designed to help medical professionals explore career options in Israel — and to help those who have decided to make aliyah take care of some of their professional paperwork before crossing the ocean.

Doctors, nurses, therapists, and other medical professionals hoping to practice in Israel have to be relicensed by Israeli authorities. To be issued that license, the applicant must present diplomas, certifications, and other American professional documents, and an Israeli notary must authenticate them.

So Nefesh b’Nefesh is bringing two Israeli notaries to the Glenpointe to certify those documents — along with representatives of many Israeli government offices.

The goal is “to get everything under your belt pre-aliyah, so after you make aliyah all you’ll need is your Israeli identity card to be issued a license,” Ronen Fuxman said. Mr. Fuxman is responsible for government advocacy and the employment division of Nefesh B’Nefesh and he is one of the organizers of the MedEx program.

“Someone who is coming to the event can do paperwork in three to four hours that would take four to six months if it had to be done one by one,” he said —
in large part because officials who normally occupy separate buildings, if not separate cities, will be gathered in one hotel ballroom.

Israeli Cabinet Minister Oded Forer hopes to recruit immigrants to the Negev and Galilee.

In addition to government representatives — including half a dozen from the Ministry of Health — Nefesh B’Nefesh also is bringing representatives of the Israeli medical association and officials from hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and medical technology companies looking to hire soon-to-be Israelis with American medical training.

More than 150 people already have booked slots with licensing professionals, and another 200 have expressed interest in attending, Mr. Fuxman said.

It’s a “two-step process” for American doctors to qualify to practice in Israel, he explained. First they must get their Israeli license, and then they need Israeli board certification. For that, “someone needs to review your credentials, your residencies, your work experience, your publications. So we’re bringing two representatives of the Israeli medical association who will sit near the representatives of the Ministry of Health. Doctors will move to that table after being instructed and helped by our team.”

His advice to attendees: “Bring as many documents as possible: your license, your employment documents, your school transcripts. If you’re a surgeon, you need to bring your surgery log.”

Mr. Fuxman said that most of the time slots to meet with licensing officials on Sunday already are filled, but there are plenty available on Monday.

“I would recommend coming on Sunday and see what you have to do, and come back on Monday with all the required documents,” he said.

While medical professionals other than doctors, such as occupational and physical therapists, have fewer licensing requirements, the hoops they must jump through are higher. Unlike physicians, they will have to take Israeli licensing exams.

The upcoming MedEx fair, like this one in 2019, offers potential olim a chance to meet with Israeli employers. (Shahar Azran)

“It’s kind of an obstacle,” Mr. Fuxman admitted. “We’re doing our best to help by connecting the new olim” — immigrants — “with old olim who already took the exam and can offer advice.”

The MedEx event also will provide a venue for job interviews.

“It’s a great opportunity to see what the country has to offer in terms of the medical landscape, whether you are 21 years old and fresh out of nursing with no idea of what to do with your life, or are a doctor and thinking of shifting directions,” Mr. Fuxman said. “You can talk to people who can tell you how to combine work in a hospital and an HMO to get a nice salary.”

This will be the first MedEx event since 2019; one scheduled for March 15, 2020 was cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic.

Mr. Fuxman said the Israeli government sees recruiting immigrant doctors as an urgent task.

“We are very low on the charts in terms of doctors per one thousand residents,” he said. “The further you go from the center of the country to the periphery, the situation becomes even more critical.”

Oded Forer, a former Knesset member who heads the Ministry for the Development of the Periphery, the Negev and the Galilee, will be at the Glenpointe, along with the ministry’s deputy director.

“They’re trying to lure more doctors to the periphery as the shortage in those areas is really critical,” Mr. Fuxman said.

(Jenna Bascom)

But the shortage of medical professionals stretches across the entire country and is expected to get much worse soon. “A huge chunk of current Israeli doctors are the olim who immigrated from the former Soviet Union in the 1990,” he said. “That chunk is now retiring and exiting the work force in bulk.”

This shortage is true for all the medical professions, including emergency paramedics, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists, with the exception of nurses and dentists.

“The Ministry of Health is relying on about 10 percent of the medical work force to be manned by olim, and the Americans are the larger piece of that pie,” Mr. Fuxman said. If the 150 professionals who have registered make aliyah this year, that would be “a huge, huge contribution.”

In 2021, 94 North American doctors were relicensed in Israel — but only 38 of them were under 70. “That’s not a good number,” Mr. Fuxman said. “This year the average age is going down.”

Israel recently instituted a major policy shift to encourage more young doctors to make aliyah.

“Together with the Israel Defense Force and the Ministry of Absorption, we were able to renegotiate the mandatory draft age for doctors,” Mr. Fuxman said. “Until recently, the age was 35 or 36; a doctor coming to Israel, whether a psychiatrist or an emergency medical specialist, would be drafted for two full years as an army doctor.

“If you were married and lived up north, you could still be assigned to serve in Beersheba and only be able to go home every other weekend. This was a big no-go for many of our olim who wanted to come at the beginning of their careers. If I’m an orthopedic surgeon and I’m not in surgery two days a week, I’m losing my skills.

“We got it down to 30. That’s a big deal. We don’t have a lot of doctors trying to come below that age — usually they’re coming at age 31 and up, after their residency and working a bit to pay off student loans.”

Nefesh B’Nefesh and government ministers are working together to create a program to help pay off immigrants’ student loans, Mr. Fuxman added. “The average current student loans for doctors is about $180,000,” he said. “Young American doctors know our salaries are lower compared to the U.S. and so are kind of afraid to move to Israel.”

While it’s not final, “everyone in the government” — that includes the ministries of health and finance — “is really thrilled about this program and we hope to get the green light soon,” he said.

What: MedEx pre-aliyah fair for potential immigrants in medical professions

Where: Teaneck Marriott at Glenpointe, 100 Frank W Burr Blvd, Teaneck

When: Sunday, March 27, and Monday, March 28, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information and advance registration:

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