Israel faces dire shortage of doctors in coming years, report finds

Country’s physicians are reaching retirement age and not enough are being trained in Israel, with 60% coming from abroad

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A doctor leaves the operations department in Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Illustrative: A doctor leaves the operations department in Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital in Jerusalem, September 3, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israel is facing a dire shortage of doctors in the coming years, an international health report released Thursday said.

Israel was the only country surveyed that did not see an increase in its number of doctors since 2000, and the country’s physicians are reaching retirement age, according to the OECD annual report, “Health at a Glance.”

Around 50 percent of Israel’s doctors are over the age of 55, with only Italy recording a higher proportion of aging physicians. In the OECD’s 36 countries, 34% of doctors are over 55.

There was also a relatively low number of doctors being trained in Israel, with close to 60% of the country’s doctors being trained abroad, well above the OECD average of 18%. Around 40% of the foreign-trained doctors were born in Israel and left the country for their studies.

The low number of doctors was due to Israel’s explosive population growth of 40% between 2000 and 2017, the report said.

The number of nurses per capita in Israel fell from 2000-2017, one of only four countries to see a decline in the field.

There were 3.1 doctors in Israel for every 1,000 people, below the average of 3.6, and 5.1 nurses for every 1,000, well below the average of 8.8.

Israel’s nurses are the third highest-paid employees of all countries surveyed, however, relative to the country’s average salary.

Israeli nurses at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital in Jerusalem, February 19, 2014. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Overall, Israelis were healthier than average in most categories.

Israel’s life expectancy was 82.6 years, above the average of 80.7.

Israel had the lowest level of mortality from preventable causes, at 72 per 100,000 people, compared to the OECD average of 133.

The report notes that Israel spends less than average per capita and has a higher than average life expectancy, making it one of eight countries that do so. Israel also has higher breast cancer survival rates and a lower rate of avoidable mortality, despite its below-average spending.

Israel’s per capita health spending was $2,780, 7.5% of its GDP, below the average of 8.8%.

Alcohol was a major factor in poor health internationally, the report said, noting that Israelis consume a relatively small amount of alcohol per year — 2.6 liters per person per year compared to an OECD average of 8.9 liters.

In line with OECD averages, 16.9% of Israelis smoke, 50.9% are overweight, and 48.7 deaths out of 100,000 in the country are due to pollution.

Gains in longevity have slowed in recent years, especially in the US, France and Holland.

The causes for the setback are likely due to obesity, diabetes and the opioid crisis, which has killed 400,000 in the US.

Some 56% of adults internationally are overweight or obese.

Circulatory diseases, including heart attacks and strokes, caused one in three deaths, and cancer caused one in four.

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