JERUSALEM — Former Elizabeth resident Ariel Siegel is actively involved in changing the face of the Israeli medical system. Siegel, who made aliya in 2010, is one of the first medical professionals to practice as a physician assistant (PA) in Israel, providing much-needed support to Israeli doctors and patients.
Although the profession has existed in the United States for 50 years, only recently has it become recognized in Israel, Siegel said during an interview with NJJN.
Before moving to Israel, Siegel met twice with representatives of the Israel Ministry of Health, who advised him to find an alternate profession. “They made it clear that a PA program would not be happening any time soon,” said Siegel, who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife, Atara, and their four children. “I figured I would have to give it up.”
He worked for three years as a medical consultant and writer, until he spotted a job listing for physician assistants at Reuth Medical & Rehabilitation Center in Tel Aviv. He is now one of three U.S.-trained PAs at Reuth — the first hospital in Israel to introduce the position to the medical staff. The hospital’s other two PAs are from California and New York.
According to Reuth’s deputy executive director, Miriam Frankel, PAs help fill the gap in Israel, where there is a shortage of doctors and a growing number of patients. “Our PA program shows that Reuth is an innovative leader in the Israeli medical field,” she said. “While other medical institutions in Israel hesitated at the idea of PAs, Reuth welcomed PAs with open arms.”
PAs enable Reuth to provide care to its patients, both medically and emotionally, and to provide support to Reuth doctors, she said. PAs help coordinate patients’ medical care and spend more time talking with patients than the doctors are able to.
“Ariel and the PA staff at Reuth are shining examples of the real value of a partnership between the Diaspora and Israel,” Frankel said. “Bringing in these wonderful, highly skilled medical professionals who have studied and worked overseas has enriched Israeli society.”
By taking the time to listen and communicate with patients, PAs help patients better understand medical issues, said Siegel. “If a patient waits an hour to see a doctor, who only speaks with them for a few minutes, that patient is less likely to comply with the doctor’s advice if they didn’t fully understand why it was advised,” he said.
“For example, instead of just telling a patient they need to take medication to reduce their blood pressure, PAs spend extra time to explain what blood pressure is and what it means if their pressure is high.”
Siegel, who has a biology degree from Yeshiva University, completed his PA studies at State University of New York at Stony Brook. He worked as a PA for 10 years in New York and New Jersey. Originally from Monsey, NY, he was affiliated with the Jewish Educational Center and its Congregation Adath Israel in Elizabeth.
Siegel credits Reuth for enabling him to practice his chosen profession. “Reuth is very forward thinking. We have a PA model that was created in the U.S. and has been tried and true for 50 years. We are bringing that system to Israel, using our hospital as a petri dish to prove our value,” he said.
Among his recent patients, Siegel treated a young Israeli woman who sustained a serious injury in a car accident while visiting the United States. When she arrived at Reuth, she had a disk of several thousand pages of medical records from the hospital where she was treated. “I was able to breeze through her records because they were in my native tongue, in a system I am familiar with, and her family was very excited that there was continuity of care here in Israel,” Siegel said. “This is exactly why I got into this field.”