For Dr Dean Lutrin, converting his medical degree turned out to be smooth sailing

By: Chandrea Serebro

For distinguished general and colorectal surgeon Dr Dean Lutrin, surgery isn’t merely a profession – it’s a symphony of science, technical skill, teamwork, and of course, compassion. So, when making Aliyah in 2021, turning a lifelong dream of living in Israel into a reality, no obstacle was so great that it would have stopped him from practicing his passion.

With a focus on solving complex surgical problems, Dean feels grateful that embedded in his work is the joy of helping people, which along with meeting new patients, learning their stories, and contributing to a vital part of society, keeps him inspired. But working in Israel is a very different reality from working in South Africa, the country of his birth. This can present an opportunity as well as a challenge, and recognising this before making Aliya is an important step towards being able to transition successfully after Aliyah.

In Israel, a denser concentration of skilled professionals caters to the overall population, while in contrast, South Africa’s private sector offers excellent care – but only to a select few. With that in mind, what is needed to practice in Israel is a shift from a broad skill set – which is necessary in South Africa – to a deeper focus and specialty that one requires in Israel.

Feeling on a daily basis what he calls “the Jewishness of everything” is wonderful, says Dean, and dealing with Israelis brings with it a sense of intimacy, a sense of brotherhood between doctor and patient. The challenges, however, are less romantic. State hospital salaries are low, which makes it essential for one to consult privately after hours, which in turn makes the working day very long, which can be difficult personally and for the rest of the family.

Thankfully, for Dean, one thing that proved to be less of a challenge than one might have expected was converting his medical degree. With a heads up before you make Aliyah and some time and effort to get all your ducks in a row (which is what Telfed specialises in helping with) the process can be streamlined, and the time it takes to be accredited locally in Israel shortened.

One thing you have got on your side, apart from Telfed, is the fact that medical qualifications from certain countries are recognised without reservation. And if you have been qualified for more than 14 years, it is that much simpler still. “I had to complete a three-month observation period in my surgical department, but as soon as I had completed that satisfactorily, I was granted an unrestricted medical license.”

To kick start the process, however, Dean stresses the strategic timing of your Aliyah. “I would advise doctors wishing to come to Israel to do so either at the start of one’s career or once one is fully established. To arrive here partially trained may make you a burden on the system, and it would almost definitely take longer to get going professionally.”

Dean also emphasizes the importance of meticulous preparation, from an updated CV to comprehensive transcripts dating back to the very beginning of your University studies. “Part of the process can only be started once you are an Israeli citizen, but a lot of the paperwork can be organized and prepared before making Aliyah so that once you are a citizen, everything happens as quickly as possible.”

Telfed advised Dean on choosing a lawyer who is experienced with helping Olim with medical registration, which proved to be invaluable. “It would have been an error to try and do it all myself. Yes, there was a cost involved but the Ministry of Aliyah reimbursed 80% of the legal fees,” he says.

And of course, what almost every new Oleh dreads to hear – you need to be all but fluent in Hebrew. Dean highlights the importance of this and stresses its indispensable role in daily activities and seamless integration into the Israeli workplace. “Whilst much of the medical world can function in English, the importance of Hebrew cannot be underestimated. Ward rounds, consulting with colleagues, attending departmental meetings, talking to patients – Hebrew is essential in the medical world.”

So, for fellow medical professionals contemplating Aliyah, Dean’s journey should give you a boost of encouragement to follow your dream of living in Israel and keep your passion for medicine intact, because it definitely is possible for Olim to do both.