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EXCLUSIVE: Israeli hospital gives med students second chance to continue studies amid COVID-19 pandemic

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Sheba Medical Center’s “2nd Shift” has saved the medical careers of so many Israeli students who were left in the lurch due to coronavirus, and has put them on track to qualify as doctors

By ILANIT CHERNICK

It’s no secret that many Israeli medical students study in Europe due to the shortage of medical schools in Israel.

But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, amid travel limitations and lockdowns, these Israeli medical students studying abroad were left in the lurch.

The big question on their lips: How were they going to continue their studies and make a difference in the country’s medical sector if they were unable to attend class?

To help these students tackle this conundrum, Prof. Gadi Segal of Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer took the initiative and created the “Second Shift” program.

Speaking to IsraelNewsStand, Segal explained that the “2nd Shift” program was spurred by the pandemic, especially once “European universities were closed and Israeli medical students at those schools could not continue their studies.”
“Many of those Israeli students returned home to Israel during that time,” he said. “Some were able to take exams online virtually, but they certainly could not do medical rounds and the hands-on training required of a medical student.”

“They were missing out,” Segal stressed.

Dr Gadi Segal who heads up the ‘2nd Shift” program at Sheba Medical Center. (Credit: Sheba Medica Center)

But at Sheba, like many hospitals, Segal said they realized they could accommodate these Israeli medical students from Europe in the afternoon, “during a day’s ‘2nd Shift’ – hence the name of the program.” 

Asked how the program works, Segal pointed out that the students learn at Sheba from 1 pm to 7 pm daily, “getting on-site training by 45 of our top doctors who are financially incentivized to take part” and that it’s for medical students in all clinical years.

This program, he said, “has the potential to dramatically change the way medicine is being studied in Israel.” 

“Israel is the only country in the world where the majority of doctors study outside of the country, as there is a lack of clinical fields and is therefore facing a catastrophic crisis as the lack of physicians negatively impacts the quality of education,” he said.

According to Segal, “increasing the number of clinical fields and at the same time providing top-quality education, will help Israel to avoid this crisis.”

He added that several medical schools in Europe had also reached out asking for solutions for their Israeli students.

Additionally, Sheba recently signed agreements with several universities around Europe, which will give European medical students an opportunity to take part in the “2nd Shift” program.
“It is important to note that as all of the European universities believe that clinical studies should be at the place of future practice,” he pointed out, adding that “they are very happy to collaborate with us to ensure that their Israeli students receive the best possible clinical education.” 

Segal said that currently, they have formal relations in the Czech Republic with Charles University and Palacký University Olomouc, and in Italy with the University of Turin.

He made it clear that this program “has saved the medical careers of so many students and has put them on track to qualify as doctors.” 

Of the 40 student graduates of clinical medical studies who are now in 2nd Shift, 30 of them, would have lost out on taking their exams due to COVID.

“They will now be successfully able to thanks to 2nd Shift,” Segal said. “Without 2nd Shift, a whole year of their clinical progress would have been lost.”

Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer in Ramat Gan. (Courtesy)

For Segal and the students, “2nd Shift” is not just a “default program to fill the gaps.”
“I am proud that we are a premium program with extremely high standards and are leading the way,” he said. “I have learned that anything is possible.” 

After being told for many years that Israel is full to capacity for clinical students, Segal said that Sheba’s program has “proven that positive change can happen, Corona accelerated our progress as it demonstrated to us the extreme importance of fortifying the health system.”

Segal encouraged Israel’s other hospitals to follow suit, “Together, not only can we bring home Israeli medical students studying abroad but also increase the number of medical students in Israel over the next six to seven years.”

He added that this program is something Sheba is planning to continue beyond COVID-19 and that they are aiming to extend and build onto the 2nd Shift program.

For Inbar Noach, a 25-year-old Israel medical at the University of Turin in Italy (Universita di Torino), the “2nd Shift” program gave her the opportunity to continue doing her practical medical training despite having returned home to Israel due to the pandemic.

 “When COVID hit, I was in the middle of exams, studying in my apartment in Turin,” she told IsraelNewsStand. “As you know, COVID in Europe started spreading quickly – first in Italy. Suddenly, our medical school in Italy told us that all exams were canceled, and they didn’t know what would happen next.”

As soon as she heard the news, she flew back to Israel hoping that “this COVID thing would end soon, and I would soon return to Italy to complete my exams and medical studies.”

She never believed it would last so long.

Although she completed all her exams virtually from Israel, as a third-year student, she needed to continue her medical training in the hospitals.
“All the clinical practice [in Italy] was suspended and we had no idea when it would resume,” Noach said. “The Turin Hospital is also a regional hospital treating all the COVID patients in the region and the hospital was flooded.”

Although students were offered the opportunity to do rounds in other hospitals in Turin, most of the Israeli students were in Israel at the time.
“So, the university contacted the Italian embassy in Tel Aviv and the embassy contacted Sheba Medical Center,” Noach explained. “Sheba had sent a few doctors to Italy during the early stages of the pandemic to help them, so there was already an established connection.”

As part of the “2nd Shift” program, Noach and her fellow students were able to do their clinical hours in June this year. 

“We were the first group [of Israeli students] from Italy to take part in this program,” she said. “There were 12 Israeli medical students in the group and while at Sheba I received credit from my university in Italy.”

(Courtesy: Shutterstock)

They loved the “2nd Shift” learning and close contact with Sheba’s medical staff so much that students even stayed after hours to learn about other interesting cases.
“We [were able to] watch and learn, and get hands-on experience,” she said. “This is one of the benefits of Sheba – they teach us how to think, how to be open-minded, and how to ask patients the right questions.” 

“We are lucky to have Prof. Segal training us,” Noach stressed. “Sheba knows how to teach and how to make learning interesting.”

Noach emphasized that she feels so lucky to be part of “2nd Shift” at Sheba and to receive such wonderful training.
She said that, following her experience, she dreams to be accepted to a specialty at Sheba when she graduates from medical school in Italy. 

“We got to know all sorts of divisions within Sheba and Sheba is so open to letting us watch and learn,” Noach pointed out. “All the doctors at Sheba love to teach and they were so accessible – something you just don’t find in Europe.”

She made it clear that the “2nd Shift program has great potential, not just for Israeli students but for others, too.”

Some of us doubted at the beginning whether the program would be worthwhile, but it is such a great opportunity, I would recommend it to any Israeli medical student. It was one of the best experiences of my medical studies. 

“My ultimate goal is to come back and be a doctor in Israel and this is a huge step to help make that happen,” Noiach concluded.

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