Adam Cooper has been to Israel four times, with three of those visits taking place in the past two years. But it was his most recent stay, in early November, that still resonates with the 32-year-old Center City resident, an emergency physician at the Philadelphia V.A. Medical Center.
From Nov. 8 to Nov. 13, more than a dozen U.S. doctors from all medical specialties were in Israel, training alongside Israeli medical professionals to prepare for worst-case scenarios as part of the American Physicians Fellowship for Medicine in Israel's Emergency and Disaster Preparedness Course.
Cooper, who adamantly declared that he "would live in Israel in a heartbeat, if I could," was among them.
In the event of a war, these doctors would return to Israel and take over, so that their Israeli counterparts could serve in the Israel Defense Force.
The intensive, five-day course is one of several operated by the APF, in conjunction with the Israeli Ministry of Health and the Medical Corps of the IDF.
According to its Web site, APF is a nonprofit organization established in 1950 to advance the state of medical education, research and health care in Israel; it also supports advanced training in the United States and Canada for Israeli doctors, as well as maintains a registry of North American doctors (the sole organization designated by the Jewish state to do so) prepared to go to Israel if emergency needs arise. Approximately 400 physicians and health-care professionals are now on the roster.
Cooper, a native of the Jersey shore, said that he knew since third grade that he wanted to be a doctor.
On the program, he explained that each day was jam-packed with activities: learning the appropriate response to conventional, biological, nuclear or chemical warfare; practicing in a state-of-the-art visual simulation, including putting on equipment and injecting medications into mannequins, an experience that is mandatory for Israeli medical students and residents to gain experience; and participating in a mass-casualty ammonia disaster drill.
Useful in Several Instances
The doctors also spoke with Magen David Adom paramedics stationed in the southern Israeli city of Sederot about their experiences with the constant rocket attacks from Gaza, and also visited a hospital in the Israeli border town that, remarked Cooper, "was not too different from the Philadelphia suburbs."
Cooper pointed out that his training in Israel — how to deal with real threats, how to implement a disaster plan, as well as learning from Israeli's pitfalls and mistakes — can also be useful stateside in managing emergency responses in case of a potential threat or disaster.
"Hopefully, all the things I learned I will never have to use," he said. But he figured that if he was going to learn about such matters, he might as well learn "from the best" — "from people that know how to do it."
'A Gateway to the IDF'
Cooper, who spent his residency in emergency medicine at Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center, volunteers as a physician with the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. He is pursuing a medical military career with the U.S. Navy Reserves, and one day hopes to work in bioterrorism research.
Cooper first learned of the opportunity during a Web search. He called the program "a gateway to seeing how the IDF works," and noted that although Israel, being a small country, is working with limited resources, it does "more with their limited resources than we do with more."
"That's beyond amazing," said the doctor, pointing out the interaction between military and civilian medicine in the Jewish state. He said that if people saw what he saw during his course, "there wouldn't be a Jewish doctor in the United States who wouldn't be" there on the fellowship program.
Speaking with doctors who had treated patients in hospitals while under fire from rocket attacks seems to have the biggest lasting impact on him.
"[Israeli physicians] live with the threat … when they are only trying to provide medical care," said Cooper, noting that they are required to treat everyone medically, even if they aren't Jewish or Israeli.
"[These physicians] live in the reality where the threat of war is constant. It's beyond sobering. I don't know if I'd have that same ability."