The physician shortage threatens to turn public healthcare in Israel from an advanced, high-quality system with international achievements, into a feeble provider of low-quality medical care, suffering from chronic shortage in major fields. The claims that the percentage of doctors in Israel is higher than in Western countries are unfounded. In fact, not only is the number of doctors in Israel lower than in Western countries, but the physician shortage is becoming more acute.
This alarming phenomenon shows up on several levels, including the decrease in demand for medical studies and practicing medicine, increasing burnout among doctors as a result of work overload and insufficient remuneration, and abandonment of the profession in favor of competing industries or work abroad. The shortage has severe implications on the healthcare system, including overcrowding of hospital wards and occupancy well above the staffing standards – both of which impair the quality of healthcare – violence directed at medical staff in hospitals and clinics, and growing inequity in periphery healthcare.
Confronting the physician shortage requires a change in priorities, as well as immediate and long-term solutions. In the short run, the government must allocate approximately 1,000 new medical positions to meet the system’s needs, including in specialties suffering severe shortage. In the long run, a joint committee of doctors and the Ministry of Health must be established to determine a policy concerning staffing standards, set up a mechanism to regularly update staffing standards, add staff according to the needs of various fields in the framework of an exceptions committee, consider allocating specific staffing standards for the periphery and for the medical specialties suffering severe shortage, etc.
Additionally, the State should encourage employment of doctors in the periphery and in the specialties in crisis, and rectify the shortcomings that have cropped up in the system and in the doctors' employment plan, according to IMA's recommendations. Without systemic action based on the suggestions outlined above, the physician shortage is expected to exacerbate in the coming years, causing increasingly severe damage to both doctors and patients.