Physicians in Israel: Trends in Characteristics and Training
Author: Aviad Tur-Sinai, Noam Zontag, Orna Blondheim, Alex Weinreb, Dov Chernichovsky Policy Research

The total supply of physicians in any given location is determined by two factors: the number of individuals with a medical license; and how many hours per week they actually work as physicians. Because medical training takes many years, increasing the number of physicians cannot happen overnight. Increasing the number of specialists is even more difficult—a specialist’s training can take 15 or more years. Yet Israel, with its growing population, and rapidly growing elderly population in particular, needs to increase the supply of physicians, and needs to do it quickly.

These factors provide background for this study, which examines trends in the supply of physicians in Israel (all those licensed to practice medicine who earned an income) during the last two decades, and describes selected demographic and other characteristics of this pivotal class of health personnel.

General practitioners and specialists

The growth and aging of the population in Israel contribute to the increase in medical needs and the need for medical services. Taking this need into account, the researchers find that the reduction in the age-adjusted number of physicians per capita in Israel has been accompanied by an increase in the age-adjusted number of specialists per capita. More specifically:

  • Following rapid population growth of about 1.9% per year since 2000, the number of physicians per capita decreased. This decline was particularly large relative to the OECD, although the absolute number of physicians per capita in Israel remains relatively high in international terms.
  • Over the last few years this long-term decline has been reversed. In 2018, about 1,700 new physicians were certified, which is about three times the number certified in 2007.
  • In recent years, there has also been notable growth in the number of new specialists, which stood at about 800 specialists in 2018, and is expected to rise in coming years.
  • There has been a considerable increase in the share of specialists among active physicians: Between 2000-2016, the overall number of practicing physicians increased by 31% while the number of practicing specialists increased by 67%.

Demographic characteristics of practicing physicians

The average age of practicing physicians in Israel has risen significantly since 2000, as has the share of female and Arab Israeli physicians.

  • The number of physicians in the 61-67 age group increased by 174%, and the number who continue to practice after official male retirement age (67) grew even more significantly, by 271%, such that their share of total physicians grew from 4% to 12%.
  • There has been a drop in the number of physicians in the 41–50 age group and an increase in the number of young physicians (up to the age of 40) — part of the recent increase in newly certified — though the share of the under-40s out of all active physicians dropped from 29% to 25%.
  • The proportion of women among recipients of new medical licenses has ranged from 42% to 45% during the last decade.
  • Among physicians over 60, who are expected to retire in the coming years, the share of women is relatively low. This will likely result in an increase in the share of women among all active physicians.
  • The age and gender profile of physicians has an effect on their total work hours: the weekly number of work hours of male physicians aged 25–64 is 48–53 hours, as compared to 41–47 hours for female physicians in that age group; male physicians over the age of 65 work an average of 33 weekly hours as compared to about 24 weekly hours for female physicians. The decline in overall hours may create pressure to increase the number of work hours of young specialists and interns.
  • The share of physicians from the Arab sector entering the system has risen and now accounts for 30% of the new physicians in Israel. The proportion of active physicians who are Arab is approaching their proportion in the population (21%).
  • The main part of the 133% increase in the number of recipients of medical licenses since 2007 can be attributed to physicians who studied abroad: from 2007-2016 their proportion rose by 366% as opposed to an increase of 80% among graduates of Israeli medical schools.
  • The proportion of graduates who studied in an Israeli medical school during the period studied rose to 44% while the proportion of immigrants who studied abroad dropped to 24% and the proportion of native Israelis who studied abroad increased to 32%.
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Medical studies and residency

The number of medical students in Israel is on an upward trend – from 1,098 in 1990 to 2,016 currently.

  • Almost 60% of medical students are women.
  • Arabs account for about 15% of medical students in Israel, which represents an increase of 400% since 1990.
  • The proportion of graduates who studied medicine in Israel has fallen from 74% between 2000-2006 to 51% between 2012-2016, as opposed to an increase in the proportion of graduates who studied in Romania, Italy and Jordan during those periods.
  • The main increase in the number of new specialists occurred among those finishing an internship in psychiatry (96 %), occupational medicine which is related to employee health (44%), plastic surgery (40%) and ophthalmology (37%).
  • The number of new interns has declined in public health (31%) and geriatrics (29%), a situation that deserves attention in view of the increase in life expectancy and the expected doubling of the elderly population in the coming two decades.