DAVID SAFFER meets Prof Mary Rudolf as she starts a new post in Israel
PROFESSOR Mary Rudolf has embarked on a once-in-a-generation initiative as head of Centre for Public Health at Bar Ilan Medical School in Tzfat.
Opened by Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu and president Shimon Peres last October, the first Israeli medical school in 40 years is viewed as a national priority and will impact on medical, social and economic challenges.
"This is a ground-breaking plan and will have a far-reaching vision," said Prof Rudolf, who moved to Israel in January from Leeds with husband Prof Michael Krom.
"The medical school addresses inequities in health care in an undeserved community, brings economic development to a disadvantaged region and provides cutting-edge training and education for a new generation of caring young doctors."
She added: "Students attend lectures in Tzfat then will work in hospitals across the Galil - two in Nazareth, one in Nahariah, Tiberius and Safed.
"We need to turn out a new style doctor who has an approach not just limited to patient, but taking a wider population approach and attracting more doctors to the Galil."
The Centre for Public Health is key to the school's mission.
"Benchmarks will measure the impact of the medical school over time," she noted.
Appointed last November, Prof Rudolf, who lives in Rosh Pinah, believes her medical experiences in Leeds, America and the Middle East in fostering a 'grass roots' approach will benefit those directly working in disadvantaged communities.
"Providing academic support and start up grants will encourage local professionals and organisations to create health promoting activities, define concerns and develop solutions," she said.
"The centre will set goals and provide tools needed to effectively measure and evaluate success.
"Many projects will serve as models for duplication. The centre will also support and encourage wider dissemination of the most promising projects."
She added: "As educators, we propose to extend the traditional focus on the doctor-patient relationship to include an understanding of the physician's role in preventing disease and promoting health within the community.
"Interactive clinical experience will ensure students become caring physicians with the cultural competence to work effectively with patients from differing ethnic and social backgrounds.
"Clinical case conferences drawing on regional epidemiology concerns, the teaching of applied epidemiology and setting students' community work in a public health or population context are ways in which they will be encouraged to take responsibilities beyond the individual patient to the communities where they work."
The London-born medic is the third eldest of Henry and Esther Rudolf's four children.
Alongside siblings Tony, Ruth and Annie, she grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb and cited Shabbat as a particularly special time in the family home.
Prof Rudolf lived in Leeds for 20 years and is an honorary professor of child health at the University of Leeds.
A consultant paediatrician in community child health since 1992, growing up she gained a Queens Guide badge and joined Habonim during her teens.
"Habonim was hugely important for me because of its idealism and links with Israel together with combining social, political and the Zionist side," Prof Rudolf said.
She visited the Western Wall just after the Six Day War in 1967 on a three-week tour to Israel.
"It was a very exciting time because so few people I knew had visited Israel," she said.
Inspired by a book on Dr Albert Schweitzer, who saved many lives in Africa, a desire to study medicine followed. And after graduating from the University of London, the new medic started out in internal medicine.
Shortly after their marriage, her husband accepted a job in 1977 at Yale University and Prof Rudolf began a career as a paediatrician, initially at Waterbury Hospital, 20 miles from New Haven, then at Yale.
"I loved paediatrics from the start, but when our son Aaron was born, I suddenly realised I had to relate more to parents and it has been a great career," she commented.
Following five years in the States, where the young doctor completed paediatric training, a seven year stint followed in Israel when Michael took up a research post to help develop the fish industry.
"When Sinai was given back to Egypt, the coastline was reduced to Eilat," she said. "It was decided to bring the fish industry into man-made ponds so water quality was a big issue."
During this period, the Kroms' daughter Becca was born. She now lives in Tel Aviv.
When Michael accepted a sabbatical post at Rhode Island University, a period in ambulatory paediatrics followed for Prof Rudolf before the family sojourned to Yorkshire in 1991.
The past two decades has seen Prof Rudolf specialise in childhood obesity and professional education.
In 2007, she received a National Health Service Clinical Excellence Award for her work.
Brodetsky Primary School in Leeds was among 10 schools to participate in a health programme in 1995.
A paper was published following research in the British Medical Journal prior to a community programme, Watch It, that resulted in TV and radio exposure.
"It was one of the first programmes in this country offering help to obese children and is still thriving," she said.
"It's so difficult when children are severely overweight so we looked at their quality of life.
"With obesity there is no quick fix, it's a lifelong struggle.
"It's still a huge problem, everyone is affected, but there is no question, if you are poor then it's worse."
Prof Rudolf also ran a Masters course in child health for paediatric registrars in Yorkshire. Research focused on the prevention, treatment or epidemiology of obesity.
"Having realised obesity is so difficult to treat, I became interested in trying to prevent it," she noted.
"There is a good deal of evidence that a period of one's life which determines if you are going to be overweight is baby and toddlerhood.
"If parents can get things right for young children there is optimism you can stop them getting obese."
Helping to set up HENRY (Health, Exercise and Nutrition for the Really Young), the scheme is now a national organisation based in Oxford.
"We train community and health professionals to work more effectively with parents about getting the home environment right," Prof Rudolf said.
"It's about being warm and responsive to your child, but it's not always easy as TV is a great baby sitter.
"We've trained 6,000 professionals and it's moving internationally.
"There has been huge interest and it's made a difference. What is exciting is professionals report they have made changes in their family lives so are more effective to help parents make changes."
Regarding her return to Israel, Bar Ilan's latest acquisition came about by chance when paediatrician Dr Anthony Luder told her about the post.
"I was obviously interested," Prof Rudolf recalled. "He passed my CV to the dean of the medical school and they felt my research was relevant in the area.
"Another Brit, Micky Weingarten, is vice-dean and the real driving force here in Tzfat.
"It is thanks to him I made the move. He believes the medical school's mission is achievable and inspires others around him.
"This is a huge adventure to take part in.
"There is such a wave of energy, enthusiasm, a warmth of relationships and determination to make this work.
"It's Zionism in the oldest use of the term. It's Ben Gurion's Israel and is going to build up an underprivileged part of the country not well served by health services.
"Just like Ben Gurion talked about 'the desert blooming', this will make the Galil bloom.
"There are a lot of people with strong visions about what they want the medical school to achieve.
"Politicians want economic development of the area, the medical school faculty wants to deliver cutting edge training and others want to make a difference in the Galil.
"The responsibility is to capture those visions and draw them together."
Prof Rudolf concluded: "Returning to live In Israeli feels like I've come full circle.
"I've always felt a connection to Israel's history and geography. I feel at home and a part of it all."