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July 05, 1991 - Image 40

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-07-05

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Prescription For Conflict

Turn Your
Gold ...


Soviet doctors in Israel feel they are the
target of unfair discrimination.


Special to The Jewish News


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FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1991


ore than a year after
leaving the Soviet
Union for Israel,
Ilya Gorelick still feels
But today the source of the
oppression isn't the Soviet
government. It's the Israeli
Health Ministry, which is
requiring immigrant physi-
cians like Dr. Gorelick, a
pulmonary specialist, to pass
a medical exam before they
can be licensed to practice in
the Jewish state.
Dr. Gorelick, who is
supposed to take the exam in
July, sees it as a malicious
tool used by the ministry to
limit the number of doctors
in the country. He's also
offended by the derogatory
comments he often hears in
the media about Soviet doc-
"Every day there's news
on the television that the
level of doctors in the Soviet
Union is so low, and that in
Israel it's so high," said Dr.
Gorelick, who emigrated to
Jerusalem from Crimea, a
region in the southern
Soviet Union, last April.
"Now people here don't
understand what's going on.
They're afraid of Soviet doc-
Dr. Gorelick, 43, isn't
alone. Many recent Soviet
emigre physicians feel as
though they're at war with
the Israeli government, if
not with Israeli society.
In fact, about a thousand
Soviet Jewish physicians
demonstrated in front of the
Knesset April 22 to protest
the Health Ministry's poli-
cies. About 10 held a hunger
strike during the last two
weeks of April.
The doctors' plight is an
emotional issue that's at-
tracted much media atten-
tion in the country. And it's
one that epitomizes the
struggle Israel faces in ab-
sorbing a huge number of
immigrants in a short period
of time and placing these
immigrants in appropriate
Absorbing physicians is a
particularly daunting
challenge. Even before the
current huge wage of Soviet
aliyah began in 1990, Israel
boasted one of the highest
doctor-patient ratios in the



Wty‘, ... •

Artwork from the Los Angeles Times by Barbara Cummings. Copyright. , 1990, Barbara Cummings. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate.

world: about one doctor per
375 patients.
With approximately 600
doctors now arriving every
month from the Soviet
Union, those numbers are
increasing rapidly. It's wide-
ly accepted that the country
will not be able to employ all
the doctors in its midst.
Yet many Soviet doctors
don't seem worried by the
lack of available jobs. In-
stead, they see the exam
they're required to pass to
obtain a medical license as
their biggest obstacle to pro-
fessional success.
In 1988, the Israel Health
Ministry implemented a
policy requiring foreign
physicians who wish to prac-
tice medicine in Israel to
pass a multiple choice exam.
Those who have practiced for
more than 20 years, and cer-
tain specialists, are exempt
from taking the exam, which
tests knowledge of basic
Prior to 1988, any doctor
could obtain a license
without passing an exam.
"The question is not why
the exam was instituted, but
why Israel did not have an
exam until 1988," said Peter
Vardy, an executive in the
Israeli Health Ministry who
is in charge of distributing
licenses. "It was a bad situa-
tion. In many cases you had
doctors who were not really
giving good standards of
care to patients."
Dr. Vardy didn't state that
the exam policy was in-
stituted specifically to weed

out poor Soviet doctors. But
he characterized the levels of
practice in the Soviet Union
as generally inferior to
Israel's. "It doesn't mean
that there aren't excellent
people coming from Russia,"
he said. "But if you have to
generalize, standards there
are low."
Doctors like Ilya Gorelick,
many of whom rose to the
top of their fields in their na-
tive country, bristle at such
remarks. They also accuse
the ministry of increasing
the exam's level of difficulty
in recent years to limit the
number of doctors who are
able to practice in Israel.
This action, they charge,
represents a concession to
the influence of Israeli doc-
tors who wish to prevent
competition for their jobs.
"This test is being used as
a weapon against us," said
Dr. Leo Zlotkevick, a
pediatric surgeon from
Tashkent. Dr. Zlotkevick,
who emigrated to Israel last
year with his wife and two
children, is also studying to
take the exam this July.
The Israeli Health Min-
istry vehemently denies
these accusations. Dr. Vardy
agreed that only 30 percent of
those physicians who took
the December 1990 exam
passed — about half the
amount that succeeded a
year earlier. But he at-
tributed the low pass rate to
the fact that many of the
December test-takers did not
enroll in a free, five-month
refresher course offered by


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