Difficult circumstances crystalized Avital Bilitzky's decision to study medicine. During her military service, Avital's mother became seriously ill, and it was then that she decided to become a doctor. "The desire to understand and to know, along with the ability to treat and cure captivated me", she says. "Today, in retrospect, I can see how the profession suits me."
As her studies progressed, she decided to augment her academic credentials with a master's degree in public health. Avital, who is married and mother to Ariel (1), lives in Rehovot. She credits her success to her parents, who are her role models. "My parents taught me to believe in myself and in my abilities. They provided a home filled with safety, warmth and love. My mother, who excelled in everything she did throughout her professional career, taught me first and foremost how to be a good mother. This interview is dedicated to her memory."
Inspired by her mother, Avital became interested in science at an early age, especially biology. Films showing how the human body works and how medicines work intrigued her, but she didn't see herself working in a lab, developing drugs. She wanted to have daily contact with patients. "Even before I knew what medicine was, I watched the TV series House - the ability to diagnose and cure enchanted me, "she says.
Avital was born in Jerusalem and lived there until the age of five, and initially really liked the idea of studying in her hometown. She was accepted to medical schools in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva, even started looking for an apartment in Jerusalem for the following academic year, and then changed her mind. "I had a conversation with a medical student at Hebrew University who told me that if I had the opportunity to study in Beer-Sheva, I shouldn't pass it up," she remembers. "He sounded convincing. The reputation of the BGU's medical school precedes it – medical studies at the highest level in a pleasant atmosphere and an emphasis on becoming familiar with the hospital from the very beginning, the so-called 'Spirit of Beer-Sheva'."
What sets the Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School apart from other medical schools?
"One of the special things about our medical school is the many opportunities to expand our knowledge. During my second year, I was already tutoring several bio-statistics courses and SPSS and found myself drawn to the field of epidemiology, so I decided to add an advanced degree in public health. The University is very close to where the students live and to Soroka University Medical Center, so I could combine my medical studies, tutoring, working in the hospital, my master's degree and even have time for recreation and hiking. In fact, I met my husband on a hike."
How did you combine two demanding study tracks?
"The hardest part of my master's degree was the thesis. My advisor was Prof. Iris Shai, and my research dealt with changes in body fat tissue during lifestyle interventions. The research required a lot of work. Medical studies are demanding, especially during the clinical years when we do rounds in various departments. During those years, most of us also serve as doctors' aides to acquire more knowledge and clinical skills. I worked for nearly two years as a doctor's aide in the ER. The sixth year is a bit easier. I used the calmer periods during my studies and vacations to make progress on my thesis. Combining two tracks is doable. Sometimes the price is leisure time."
So you get up an hour earlier?
"I'm a morning person, and thankfully I found a partner like me. My husband and I, who was at that time an undergraduate electrical engineering student, would start the morning early. When you do several things together, you learn to utilize the time better, and manage to do more. If I had had kids then, maybe everything would seem different."
What does the day of a medical student also working on a master's degree look like?
"Just like the day of any other medical student, but once in a while we disappeared to lectures or to carry out assignments for the master's degree. Sometimes the demands conflicted and not all of the hospital ward heads were understanding, but the faculty helped us find creative solutions.
What is the secret of your success in school?
"There's no big secret. In medicine, those who sit down and study succeed. It is also important to have at least one good friend with you throughout the journey. This is a prerequisite for success. My best friend is named Inbal. Neither of us took a step without the other."
How responsive was your immediate circle to your "hobby" – a dual degree curriculum?
"My family supported me and cheered me on. Throughout they clearly showed that they were proud of me."
Do you have a tip for those considering following in your footsteps?
"I think it's an excellent choice and the fact that the Faculty allows you to pursue two simultaneous degrees without taking a break from one or the other is a golden opportunity. I learned a lot about research, about writing and publishing articles, about research methods and statistics. I feel I have a knowledge base that many doctors lack. I often found myself bringing my laptop to the ward and processing statistics for the doctors working there. Throw in the ability to read a new article critically and to have an in-depth understanding of the research methods – these are wonderful tools for a physician."
If you hadn't chosen medicine, what would you have liked to study?
"That's a tough one. Maybe mathematics. Possibly chemistry."
Is it weird to ask you if you're considering getting another degree soon?
"It's not. While specializing in family medicine, I have four hours of weekly classes at the University, so I feel like I haven't left yet. I feel that every day I'm learning something new. Patients never stop surprising me over and over."
First time with a stethoscope
״I remember clearly the first time I received a patient (a baby during the pediatrics round), the first time I took a blood sample, the first time I saw surgery, the first time I saw a birth, the first time I myself examined a patient, and the first time I was on duty, every little thing along the way left its mark. I particularly remember a child in the pediatric ward in Soroka who was very ill and I was with her during her prolonged hospitalization. She gave me drawings that she made for me and I still have them in a drawer."