In 2012, we found that most Palestinian-Arab healthcare professionals from East Jerusalem are women who study at universities at the West Bank and Jordan. While there is a severe lack of nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and other health care professionals in East Jerusalem, most fail to pass the Israeli Ministry of Health certification exams. Without our intervention, with only one or two passed every year. Formally, without the certification, these women cannot work in hospitals and clinics in East Jerusalem. Practically, while many of them indeed do not work in their profession, many others do work illegally in Palestinian healthcare systems – which means less qualitative healthcare for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.
Our research found out that the main reasons for the problem were language gaps, differences in curricula and a lack of preparation courses for the relevant exams that were adapted to the needs of Palestinian graduates. For example, in Palestinian and Jordanian universities, these professions are taught in English, and Arabic-speaking graduates do not speak Hebrew at a level that is sufficient for taking the exam in Hebrew. While they can take the exam in Arabic, the current translation is not a very good one, which makes it more difficult. Luckily, we were able to receive approval for these women to take the exam in English, the first non-native-English speakers to do so. Even though the translation into English is also not optimal, it is better than the Arabic version. We still have obstacles to overcome, since the women read the exam more slowly because English is not their mother tongue, and sometimes are not able to complete the exam for lack of time.
In a step to remedy the situation, we first developed courses to prepare nurses, occupational therapists and physical therapists for the exam. After four years of the program, we are proud of its accomplishments:
- The program has increased the number of certified Arab paramedical professionals in East Jerusalem significantly. Since it began in 2012, nearly 70 nurses, occupational therapists, and physical therapists have passed their Israeli certification exams. This includes 37 nurses, 24 occupational therapists and 6 physical therapists. Beforehand, only 1-2 would pass each year in each discipline. It would have taken many years to achieve these results otherwise.
- The program has enabled the JICC to more clearly map the situation of different paramedical professions in east Jerusalem, contributing to the knowledge of training in the Jerusalem area. The knowledge base increased as courses were developed. This is the first time ever that any type of mapping has been done, and this information is now available for the first time to health care and educational institutions, as well as the Israel Ministry of Health.
- The program has raised awareness both among Palestinian institutes of higher education and health care institutions in east Jerusalem as well as Israeli Ministry of Health. When the program began, there was little compliance and even less awareness about the need and benefits of having staff that passed the certification exam in their fields, and the improvement this could have on the quality of health care. Today, all major health care institutions in east Jerusalem, Palestinian universities, as well as Israel Ministry of Health, better understand this need.
- The program has opened a large window of opportunity for Arab women paramedical professionals to improve economic opportunities. Passing the certification exams improves Arab women’s access to employment rights, which includes an increase in pay and employment conditions.
- As a result of the program, the JICC has earned a prestigious reputation for offering high-quality courses. Graduates of the physical therapy and occupational therapy courses have had high rates of success. As a result of this success, graduates, and even expectant graduates, of the different Palestinian universities have requested to register for courses well in advance.
We anticipate that this self-sustaining program will bring about a revolution in health provision in East Jerusalem on two levels, and improve Palestinians’ human rights. The first level is that of the individual women and their social rights, who will now receive full salaries and benefits as required by law as certified professionals. The second, much broader level is the vast improvement in health care, also a fundamental right. This programme is yet another example of developing human infrastructure among Palestinians in East Jerusalem, which will serve the community in the future, regardless of politics.