President’s Column: Rx: More Caring
A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers,/ There was a lack of woman’s nursing, there was a dearth of woman’s tears…. a Caroline Norton’s poem evokes a Victorian image of warfare and of women. Unfortunately, it also describes a 21st-century reality of Israel: a serious shortage of nurses.
Although Israel’s universities, medical community and government have yet to define the shortage as a crisis, the math is simple. The country needs 2,000 new nurses per year to meet demand, but its 20 nursing schools are producing only 1,200.
What’s worse, some 1,300 Israeli nurses leave the profession every year, many for higher salaries abroad. A recent Health Ministry study found that Israel has one of the lowest nurse-to-patient ratios in the developed world.
If ever there was a mission for Hadassah, this is it. We built Israel’s prestate medical and nursing infrastructure. The Henrietta Szold Hadassah–Hebrew University School of Nursing—the oldest, largest and most prestigious in the country—has educated nurses and also raised the level of education. Our school has retrained the largest number of immigrant nurses over the years. We had the first baccalaureate program, and seven years ago we inaugurated Israel’s first clinical master’s program in nursing.
To meet the crisis, we know what we’d like to do as a first step. Our school, which graduates 170 nurses a year, could produce another 100 with relative ease. But we are being held back from doing what we do best by the crosswinds of politics and finance.
The most immediate obstacle is a cap on the number of nursing students. We can’t move without the approval of Hebrew University, which in turn depends on government funding. To get the cap lifted, we have to find partners from among those who, until now, have been part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
Along with increasing the number of nursing students, we need to continue raising the level of education with new programs. Part of the resistance we encounter is the attitude of many in the medical establishment who don’t like the idea of nurses who “play doctor.” The positions of advanced practice nurse and nurse practitioner—common in America—are not approved in Israel, even though many kibbutz nurses and some midwives exercise a similar level of responsibility. Israeli nurses cannot work as anesthetists—despite a shortage of anesthesiologists. Our task is to demonstrate that creating a more educated and independent nurse will save lives, money and time.
Don’t get me wrong. Israel has one of the best health care systems in the world. While Americans debate universal health care, no one in Israel worries about being denied treatment. Medical tourism—foreign patients attracted by Israel’s first-rate care and relatively low cost—is a growth industry, led by Hadassah’s hospitals.
Hadassah doesn’t have all the answers, but I’m convinced we can mobilize to deal with the shortage. Our name carries great weight in Israel. I’m counting on the support of the Hadassah Nurses’ Councils—the only professional association of Jewish nurses in America—and our nursing advisory board as resources in this campaign.
I’m also counting on you. Please take a minute to e-mail Hebrew University President Menachem Magidor (firstname.lastname@example.org); Minister of Finance Roni Bar-On (email@example.com); Minister of Education Yuli Tamir (firstname.lastname@example.org); and Minister of Health Yacov Ben Yizri (email@example.com). Tell them how committed Hadassah is to our nursing school and ask them to use their influence to lift the cap on enrollment.
My goal is that when we open the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower in Ein Kerem in 2012, we’ll be able to staff it with the quality and quantity of nurses it needs.
Medicine is a great part of our reputation as a people, and certainly part of the mystique is the Jewish doctor. But as we celebrate Passover this month, let us remember the midwives who defied Pharaoh’s order to kill the male Hebrew infants. Without Shifra and Puah, we’d have not only a lack of nurses, but no Jewish people.