It is unclear whether there is a job that has more responsibility as well as round-the-clock stress than that of a doctor in any field, even more so when talking about a specialist who is responsible to make tough life-saving choices each day. It is difficult to expect that our doctors, who often work from before sunrise until late into the night, to be on call 24/7 for additional medical emergencies in order to save lives, but for some of our doctors, that is exactly what they do.

Over 150 doctors finish their shifts and then switch hats to become volunteer doctors dedicated to saving lives in their neighborhoods via United Hatzalah’s EMS programs. Some say that being a doctor is a way of life and not a profession. No one embodies that idea better than the doctors who never hang it up and continue working after shift as volunteer EMS doctors with United Hatzalah.

Dr. Efrat Baron Harlev, Deputy Director of Schneider Children's Hospital and United Hatzalah volunteer
Dr. Efrat Baron Harlev, Deputy Director of Schneider Children’s Hospital and United Hatzalah volunteer

Dr. Efrat Baron Harlev, Deputy Director of Schneider Hospital and an expert in children’s medicine shined a light on just what it means to be a volunteer doctor in addition to her regular medical profession. “I joined the United Hatzalah organization by chance, but it certainly changed my life. What I found in the organization was a burgeoning desire to give to others. The desire to treat and help every person everywhere. I found the true meaning of ‘love your fellow neighbor like yourself’. It is a great privilege to be part of this organization. I have frequently been called upon by United Hatzalah to help save lives, and those lives were saved only because of the readiness and willingness of the exceptional volunteers and so many doctors, paramedics and EMTs who volunteer for Uunited Hatzalah and are called upon to give whenever there is need.”

Dr. Doron Levine, a medical specialist who works at the Dana Children’s Hospital also praised United Hatzalah for the work that they do. “I am an active volunteer with United Hatzalah for more than three and a half years already, and my son is also a volunteer. You can even say that it has become a family practice,” joked Levine. “I enjoy coming to help people and provide them with my medical expertise at critical moments. My son and I often head out t emergency EMS calls together. I also participate in deciding medical policy of the organization. There are no words to describe how much I love being a part of United Hatzalah and the work that I do there.”

Levine added that United Hatzalah’s expertise in arriving at emergency scenes in under three minutes is exactly what is needed when saving someone’s life. “There is a small window of just a handful of moments when one can provide medical aid to an injured or wounded individual in order to make the biggest impact. That is what United Hatzalah does the best and the fastest. We have some wonderful doctors and medical equipment in hospitals and ambulances in Israel. But they cannot arrive at the scene of an emergency with the same speed and efficiency that United Hatzalah arrives at the scene. I am proud to be a part of this organization, it truly is like one  big family which is enveloped in a life-saving atmosphere.  

Dr. Aryeh Yaffe a United Hatzalah Volunteer
Dr. Aryeh Yaffe a United Hatzalah Volunteer

“The work is very different from what we do in the hospital” said Dr. Aryeh Yaffe, a medicl intern at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. Yaffe holds a degree in emergency medicine. “At the hospital there is a very clear cut hierarchy. You know who handles every type of situation and how. In the field however, whoever gets there first is in charge of treating the injured person. They are responsible for saving the  person’s life as fast as they can. No one is there to help you when you arrive on the scene alone and need to provide aid. In emergency medicine that type of privilege does not exist.”

For Dr. Yaffe and other MDs who work as volunteer emergency medics, the intensity is so great, and the work continues round-the-clock that their lifestyle impinges upon their ‘down-time’ and time spent with the family. There is no boring  moment, and these doctors know that they can be called at any moment to go and save a life. “It can get really difficult at times,” Yaffe revealed. “There are the dead times when all you want to do is spend time with your family and then without any warning you get a call and you have to disappear, sometimes for hours. It truly is working around the clock. At any time, and everyday, you can be called to help again and again.”        

When asked how one can establish a normal lifestyle or schedule when at any second they may be called away, Yaffe responded by saying that “the end justifies the means. When we are talking about saving a person’s life or providing an ill person with much needed help, no one  has the privilege to say ‘I’m too tired’ or ‘I don’t really feel like it right now’”. Yaffe went one step further and said that when he gets into bed at night, he leaves his clothes out on a chair so that he can find them quickly and easily should he get a call in the middle of the night. “In these situations every second counts.”  

Yaffe discussed some of the more memorable cases that he was called to. “Last year on Rosh Hashana I was at home just after the holiday began and about to sit down to dinner with my family and guests when I got a call that someone nearby lost consciusness. I ran to take care of the person and came back four hours later after the meal was over and the guests had all left,” recalls Yaffe.

“Another incident took place in the Synagogue right outside my home when one of the worshippers lost consciousness in the middle of his prayer. I ran over and began treating him. The ambulance arrived and we were evacuating him just as the congregation was praying for the sick individual. The feeling of standing there evacuating someone who was in between life and death while that prayer was being said was an incredibly moving experience.”

Overall, Yaffe claims that “being a doctor, especially one who volunteers after hours as a EMS responder, and especially  in Israel where there have been a lot of terror attacks recently is a type of work that simply never ends,”he said. “One can simply never put down the life-saving medical equipment,” he added.  

Dr. Tzachi Ben-Zion, a volunteer with the Be’er Sheva branch of United Hatzalah also spoke of the continuous calls and opportunities to help save lives that he receives due to his volunteering with United Hatzalah. “Every time I head out on the highway, I am ‘on call’. I have an EMS bag with all of the gear that I will need and I am always ready for any situation that I might be called to. Volunteering with United Hatzalah EMS organization allows me to be a doctor 24 hours a day and I am always at the ready.”

Dr. Tzachi Ben-Zion a United Hatzalah volunteer
Dr. Tzachi Ben-Zion a United Hatzalah volunteer

Ben-Zion did say that he is not always successful unfortunately. “Sometimes I am able to save the person’s life and  sometimes I am not, but the ability to provide treatment and prevent a worsening of the person’s situation is very important. There is no way to explain just how important it is to be able to go and provide first aid care in the field. The more doctors, paramedics and EMS personnel that we have volunteering, the better our chances are of saving lives. There is always someone nearby who can help and that is important,” added Ben-Zion.

Ben-Zion continued to praise the volunteer model of United Hatzalah. “Via the method of United Hatzalah, every car becomes a private ambulance as it is stocked with all of the medical supplies that are in a regular ambulance, and thereby allow any volunteer to provide first aid treatment and save a life. A doctor can arrive at the scene of a tragedy, but without the proper equipment, the ability of the doctor to help is severely limited. When you have the supplies with you, then your ability to help skyrockets.”

These doctors and other volunteers of EMS organizations such as United Hatzalah, work around the clock, are called upon at a moment’s notice to wherever the need may arise, and often save a person’s life multiple times per day. For them the job of saving lives fulfills and challenges them so much more than it burdens them. “At the end of the day it is a huge responsibility but a happy and fulfilling one, to know that you can help save another person. At a time when there is a heightened level of attacks, our presence in the field as doctors is incredibly important. The fact that we all have ambucycles and can arrive at any place incredibly quickly and  provide treatment, is something that very often makes the difference between life and death,” Ben-Zion concluded.