The delegation of American physicians pose for a group shot at the Hadassah Medical Center last week. (Photo: Avi Hayoun) American awareness of emergency preparedness and disaster management has come a long way since the September 11th World Trade Center bombings. But when a group of American doctors recently wanted to learn with hands-on experience about the latest methods to deal with chemical and biological threats, they came to the place with the experts on those subjects – Israel.

Over 20 senior American physicians took part last week in a five-day emergency and disaster preparedness course developed by The Israeli Ministry of Health, in cooperation with the Medical Corps of the IDF and the U.S.-based American Physicians Fellowship (APF). According to the organizers, the course was designed to acquaint the participants with the Israeli medical emergency preparedness, contingency plans and deployment of the health organizations in emergencies and disasters. And according to the participants, the results were an astounding success.

“I think that American physicians – whether in hospitals, HMOs, or in academia, can learn several lessons from Israel in times of emergency, and the course has shown that,” said course coordinator, Dr. Boaz Tadmor. “We brought senior American medical personnel here, and we took them to see hospitals and emergency rooms. They participated in drills, simulations and discussed procedure and protocol. According to the feedback I’ve received the doctors learned a lot, and are very excited to go back home to be information ambassadors in the U.S.” Tadmor told ISRAEL21c.

Tadmor is Senior Consultant for emergency and disaster management for the National Center for Disaster Preparedeness at Columbia University in New York, and he recently helped set up the National Center for Disaster Preparedness that oversees the New York area.

“After 9/11, I was invited to New York to assess their preparedness. Since then, New York has advanced impressively,” he said.

According to Tadmor, the goal of last week’s course was for doctors to return to their communities in the US, and enhance the emergency preparedness of their own American institutions. The course included hands-on simulated training in biological warfare casualties caused by smallpox and anthrax, mass hospital toxicological drills, and trauma management.

The group visited some of the most advanced emergency medicine facilities in the country, including the Israel Center for Medical Simulation on the campus of the Sheba Medical Center, a leader in the innovative and evolving field of medical simulation, Assaf Harofeh Medical Center, Shaare Zedek Hospital, Jerusalem, and the Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem

At the Simulation Center, the group sprung into action, diagnosing cases of anthrax and smallpox poisoning in real-time simulations using actors with very realistic symptoms including frothing at the mouth.

Walking through the newly opened Emergency Trauma department at Shaare Zedek, the physicans marveled at the state of the art equipment, and the attention to detail. A few hours later at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, hospital director Shlomo Mor-Yoseph and his staff explained to the group how their facility – which has treated more terror victims than any other Israeli hospital – handles mass casualties following a terror attack. Many of the doctors, who rarely witness such scenes in their own emergency rooms, shook their heads in awe.

Course participant Dr. Morris Claman, a Los Angeles urologist affiliated with Cedars Sinai Hospital said that he was most impressed by the Israeli thoroughness surrounding preparation for emergency treatment.

“I think we were all surprised by the wonderful organizational capacity and forward thinking that the Israelis offered, and the self-criticism that came out through debriefings after mass casualties. Their utilization of modern methods of communication, like computerized tracking, was also an eye-opener,” Claman told ISRAEL21c.

Dr. Annekathryn Goodman, a surgeon who works with female cancer patients at Mass General Hospital in Boston, said that the training in Israel will help her work as part of the American medical surgical team INSERT. Goodman is no stranger to disaster management having been dispatched to Iran to treat victims of the earthquake which killed 30,000 people earlier this year.

“What I learned here in Israel will absolutely help in dealing with mass casualties in the future. There’s a lot of training in the US around mass casualty events. However, I’m impressed with the level of discipline that I’ve seen here. It helps me personally and is information that I’ll share with my colleagues,” said Goodman

“One of the really important aspects in mass casualties is working as a team – everybody needs to understand their role, and must be able to take orders from the person in command. Physicians, however, are famous for not taking orders. So learning to have that discipline, which is something I’ve learned before, has been really reinforced after seeing the Israelis at work,” she added.

“Our hope now is that the doctors will be able to train the personnel in their own hospitals how to operate during an emergency,” said APF’s executive director Mona Abramson.

Abramson explained that the organization, which was founded in 1950 with the aim of assisting Israeli physicians, has reversed focus in recent years.

“Since 1950, our mission has been to help improve the status of medical education in Israel. But now, in 2004, we’ve come a very long way, as has the state of Israel. Ironically, we’re now coming to Israel for advice about medical care and preparedness in the times after September 11.”

Dr Kel Cohen, the President of APF and professor emeritus of surgery at the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, says that the course is just the beginning of a planned long journey of cooperation with Israel’s emergency experts.

“We want to have meetings and training session back in the U.S. – not only with the Americans who have been to Israel, but also bringing Israelis to America to teach courses. We have a course planed in Richmond in April 2005 where Israelis will be coming over to teach American physicians how to pull the terror chestnut out of the fire and help solve the problem so that if there’s another 9/11 we are prepared,” said Cohen.

“Unfortunately, we’re not prepared enough yet, not nearly the way the Israelis are.”