The upper Galilee, one of Israel's most sparsely-populated regions, can now boast that it has its own medical school. An effort of many years, through successive Israeli governments, culminated on Monday at a dedication ceremony for the new school in the city of Safed. President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as other top officials, were on hand to mark the occasion.
The new school is affiliated with Bar-Ilan University and caters primarily to Israeli medical students who have begun their studies overseas and wish to be accredited by the Israeli government.
After years of navigating bureaucratic hurdles, construction of the new one-square-mile campus, which lies in close proximity to the Safed city center and Ziv Medical Center, began just seven months ago. The cost is estimated at NIS 10 million (roughly $3 million) and the brand-new school currently has more than 120 enrolled students. Six classroom buildings, a state-of-the-art auditorium, laboratories and libraries are already up and running. Additional structures will be built in the second phase of construction, which is still underway.
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The new school is the second medical school to open in northern Israel and the fifth such institution in Israel. For the past several decades, Haifa's Technion University was the only academic institution for medical studies in Israel's north. According to Bar-Ilan University's spokesperson, the new school will upgrade the six hospitals in the region into university hospitals and will bring some 200 additional physicians to the severely understaffed periphery within four years. "Among the faculty members, there are 15 Israeli researchers from leading U.S. universities who have pledged to live in northern Israel while they teach at the school. University students who agree to work in hospitals in northern Israel upon their graduation will be granted stipends to cover all their living expenses," the spokesperson announced on the university's website Monday.
Peres, who attended the dedication ceremony, decided to attend its first lecture as well. "You look great from here," he told students, who could not hide their excitement. "You are undertaking a commitment and serving a noble profession, medicine. I look upon you with great appreciation for choosing to pursue this and for choosing the Galilee as the venue for your academic studies."
Netanyahu held his weekly cabinet session in Safed to mark the occasion. Addressing the government, he echoed the president's comments. "This is a special day for the citizens of the state of Israel, for the residents of the Galilee, for the residents of Safed. The last time a medical school was opened in Israel was 37 years ago in 1974," he said. "I think this is a special and blessed day. I do not think that it happened by coincidence. This government is a government that gets things done. The idea to establish a medical school was tossed around for years; previous governments even made decisions on the issue. There is a difference between a decision, or between a vision, and action."
According to Vice Prime Minister and Negev and Galilee Development Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) the positive impact of the new school on the region is already evident. Shalom predicted Monday that the school will create some 5,000 new jobs, which would serve as a boost to the local population. "This is yet another step toward leveling the playing field between the rural areas and Israel's central region," Shalom said.
Tom Konikoff, 27, originally from the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Hasharon, and 25-year-old Elad Barber, from Tel Aviv, both began their medical training in Hungary and now want to get certified in Israel. "Coming back to Israel is a dream come true," they both said.
Meanwhile, the ongoing wage dispute in Israel's hospitals shows no signs of ebbing. Medical residents are awaiting the High Court of Justice's decision on whether to overturn the National Labor Court's ruling from several weeks ago that invalidated their resignation letters on grounds that the en-mass walkout was illegal and designed to shore up their bargaining posture against the state. Some 20 residents protested outside the Safed medical school on Monday while the dedication was underway, saying the Finance Ministry has failed to act and help the residents.
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