Students and staff of the recent Arrow Project on a tour of Sheba. In the centre is Prof. Eldad Katorza. Student Yair Jalmar is at the far right. (photo from IMP)
Sheba Medical Centre, Israel’s national hospital, enjoys a reputation for medical innovation, but many are unaware that it is also at the forefront of societal integration among various minority groups in Israel. In the past several years, Sheba has integrated hundreds of new Ethiopian olim (immigrants) into the hospital workforce, going as far as providing them with free classes to help them navigate Israeli bureaucracy and improve their language skills.
Recently, Prof. Eldad Katorza, senior physician at Sheba and director of the Arrow Project, decided to give youth from the Ethiopian community a head start by incorporating them into his pilot program.
The Arrow Project (Chetz in Hebrew, the initials of chokrim tze’irim, meaning “young researchers”) is an apprenticeship program for medical students, designed to pave their way into the world of research. Established in 2006, the initiative matches selected students with experienced researchers who serve as their mentors. During once- or twice-weekly meetings, the student-mentor teams work through every stage of medical research, from formulating the initial question, to collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results at medical conferences.
This year, for the first time, each research duo also included a third tier: high school students from the Ethiopian community.
Katorza believes in the importance of encouraging students to pursue research, noting that, in med school, they do not receive sufficient exposure to research thinking or methodology.
“I believe that research makes a doctor more knowledgeable, more curious, more creative,” he said. “A doctor who engages in research is a much better doctor.”
Employing this premise, Katorza is planning to open several slots for nursing school students in the coming year’s program. “Nursing is also a field that stands to benefit greatly from adding researching to its ranks; it will raise the bar of nursing in Israel,” he said.
In the early stages of planning the pilot program for the Ethiopian high school students, it became evident to Katorza just how crucial, timely – and challenging – his initiative was. “I asked my son, then in 11th grade, to look around his own school in Givatayim for students from the Ethiopian community who might be suitable for the program,” said Katorza. “As it turned out, there wasn’t a single Ethiopian student in his school, nor in any of the good schools in the area.”
The reason can be traced to the socioeconomic realities in Israel today. Ethiopian Israelis have long experienced prejudice and being treated as second-class citizens. By and large, members of the Ethiopian community tend to dwell together in poorer neighbourhoods, where community services, schools included, are more limited. These conditions put Ethiopian teens at a disadvantage from the outset and, due to economic necessity, the youth are pushed to join the workforce at an early age, further perpetuating a cycle of poverty.
“Almost four decades have passed since the first wave of Ethiopian Aliyah,” said Katorza, “yet, judging from their rate of participation in academia, their level of affluence and other markers of social mobility, it appears that the government has failed to take the necessary steps to help them bridge the gaps and facilitate their successful absorption into mainstream Israeli society.”
Anxious to change this negative trend, Katorza decided to include outstanding students from the Ethiopian community in the Arrow Project. However, it wasn’t simple to locate high school students from the Ethiopian sector who met the criteria for participation in the program: high marks in the sciences, high motivation and interest, and living near enough to the Sheba campus to be able to easily attend the weekly meetings. Ultimately, Katorza was aided by an organization called Fidel (“Alphabet” in Amharic), which promotes the education and social integration of Ethiopian-Israeli youth. The Fidel staff welcomed this opportunity to incorporate Ethiopian students in Sheba’s research-mentoring platform, and provided 10 candidates, from which the top five were chosen.
According to Katorza, the pilot program was a resounding success and will be repeated in the coming year. “We found that, once they are freed from the limitations of their environment, the students manifested amazing capabilities,” he said. “We endeavoured to help build their self-confidence, empower them and teach them that they can do anything they put their mind to.”
Throughout the year, in addition to their full participation in research, the Ethiopian high schoolers were also exposed to the clinical activity at the hospital. “At the beginning of the year, the students didn’t have any specific plans for the future,” Katorza said. “Now, they are now seriously considering a medical career.”
One of those is Yair Jalmar, 17, from Beer Yaakov, who participated in a research project with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Shai Tejman. “This project helped me develop my interest in medicine and learn more about the advanced technologies and devices, as well as the various departments in the medical field,” he said.
In the 14 years since the project’s inception, the pool of participants, which in the beginning included only students from Tel Aviv University Sackler School of Medicine, has expanded to foreign exchange students from New York and London, as well as medical students from Ariel University, Bar-Ilan and others. Thus far, former participants in the Arrow Project have gone on to publish their findings in respected medical journals, and several have joined the team at Sheba.
– Courtesy International Marketing and Promotion (IMP)