Elizabeth Strager went on Onward Israel during the summer of 2017. She embarked on a cardiology internship at Rambam Hospital Haifa, where she followed a nurse around and was able to gain insight on surgeries doctors performed.
“I never experienced anything like in Israel,” Strager said. “From the different medications and techniques providers practiced, this experience made me unique coming into the workforce. In Israel, I saw the heart that went into caring for patients.”
The Rambam Medical Center has 1,000 beds in its academic hospital while providing medical services for adults and children. The cardiology unit allowed Strager see therapeutic, diagnostic, laboratory and surgical processes in a world-class medical setting.
And this, for Strager, has been able to translate into her career. She is now a nurse at Boston Children’s Hospital in the solid organ transplant unit while working toward a doctorate as a family nurse practitioner.
“It helped me see if this was something I wanted to do,” Strager said.
Others shared similar sentiments. “My experience with Onward Israel helped shape my life and give me key insights into my dream career,” said Karmiya Farber, who will graduate from nursing school in December. “I interned at the University of Haifa. I loved the opportunity to work with students and professors, getting to practice my photography skills and using my bubbly personality as an asset in the workplace.”
Farber continued to work in public relations and marketing until she recognized that public health is where she felt like she could make the biggest impact on a “single person’s life.”
Alexa Rubin, who went on Onward Israel in 2013 for her third trip to the country, volunteered in the nucleic acids research lab at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“I assisted a group of scientists studying therapeutic gene-silencing,” Rubin said. “This was my first introduction to the world of investigational and personalized medicine.”
Today, Rubin is a research operations pharmacist, working with a team that supports over 800 active clinical trials for the treatment of different types of cancer and malignancies.
“I just knew health care was where I had to be,” said Rubin, who graduated from Northeastern University in 2018.
Max Klapholz’s internship during his Onward Israel experience was at the Clinical Microbiology Lab, and it encouraged him to pursue a career in biomedical research. Last summer, Klapholz started to pursue a Ph.D. in cell and molecular biology at the University of Pennsylvania.
Mara Flack’s internship during the summer of 2014 was with Yad LaKashish, a nonprofit that supports nearly 300 elderly Jerusalem residents with work opportunities and meals, which taught her professional skills that translate into her law school experience today.
“It was a really great experience that I was passionate about,” Flack said.
COVID-19, though, has brought on a time of uncertainty for those in the public health field. At the time of this writing, over a million people have been infected by the virus, and states across the country have enforced stay-at-home orders.
“Everything’s affected in different ways,” said Flack, who is graduating from Chicago-Kent College of Law. “You don’t know what others are going through.”
The time has specifically impacted public health practices.
“It’s strange. We wear masks all day at work. We have a list of people who already have coronavirus patients,” Strager said. “Nursing is a lot where you require people to rely on.”
As the profession needs collaboration between nurses and doctors, it becomes difficult to stay separated while ensuring the patients receive best practices. Visitors have also been monitored. Only two people are allowed per patient at Boston Children’s Hospital, and other children are not allowed back into the hospital for their safety.
“Staying six feet apart isn’t a luxury we can have at work,” Strager said. “You just have to trust they’ll be as safe around you as you will be around them.”
Farber said the nursing students are in a similar predicament as well.
“Right now they have taken the nursing students out of hospital clinical placements because of the pandemic, but I can’t wait to have patient interactions again and get back to healing, one person at a time,” Farber said.
Rubin added that health care workers have to be particularly safe. “We must aim to prevent COVID-19 transmission while also maintaining access for the most at-risk patients to potentially life-saving treatments,” she said. “Another concern during this unprecedented time in health care is preparing for any breaks in the supply chain.”
Judaism has come into practice to push these public health professionals further.
“Our current predicament with the pandemic really goes to show us the importance of global health, that the health of each individual in the community is equal to the health of the community at large,” Klapholz said. “The Jewish mantra of being your ‘brother’s keeper’ has definitely come into play while we maintain personal hygiene and social distancing practices to limit the spread of the coronavirus.”
Rubin agreed and added that “our work has potentially far-reaching benefits well beyond the doors of our clinic.”
Culturally, Flack also said Judaism is about checking in on others and staying compassionate, even in the face of hard times like the pandemic.
Strager has hope as well. She said her Jewish identity has allowed her to see tikkun olam, or repairing the world, in the public health field. She helps people and gives back to the community by doing so.
“As we enter into times of uncertainty and fear, people should feel confident that the health care workers around the world will always be there to take care of them and their families with love,” Strager said. “I feel like I’m kind of playing a part in helping those around me, even if it’s at a microscopic level.”