Reflections on My Time at Hebrew University
Dr. Shai Fuchs, Toronto
Attended Hebrew U 1993-1994 in the “Talpiot” military program, then 1997-2004 in medical school.
My Hebrew University story is one of two shots at academia. I come from a modest upbringing, eldest son to my parents- both hearing impaired, who were blue-collar hard workers. While I was not given the financial and social capital that can cushion one’s road to adult life, Israel’s merit-based selection system put me in the Hebrew University for the first time at age 18 as a military recruit in the prestigious “Talpiot” program.
This elite program, selecting the country’s top math and physics high school graduates for a 3-year rigorous program, was my first peek into academia, and ultimately, an academic failure. Because of low academic performance in a few courses, I was required to leave the program and returned to the general military pool. I filed this failed attempt at school as a mismatch between my personal inclination and passion and my chosen academic path.
When the time came for my second go at academia, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be the Hebrew University Medical School at Hadassah Hospital. Medicine was not a childhood dream for me as it has been for many of my classmates, but I was hoping to balance exact sciences and human interaction.
Why Hebrew U? I can go on about the excellent medical school, the prospects of living in Jerusalem, a city that reaches your core in a very fundamental way, the vibrant campus life. These were all great and valid reasons, and that was what I cited to the interviewing committee. The truth, however, was that I was trying to impress a particular girl at the University. Although it did not work out with her, it made for a wonderful medical school experience for me.
My second shot at academia built on my time in “Talpiot” and because I already knew what to expect, medical school started as a walk in a park. I was exempt from quite a few courses, which left a lot of time to tour the city’s nooks and crannies, armed with history and travel books. I shared study groups with students from various walks of life, from religious settlers to Israeli Palestinians and everything in between. We shared parties, clinical experiences, political debates (surprisingly few), the dorm’s kitchen, cramming for exams, and all the adventures that university life has to offer.
I lived through a peaceful time where Christmas mass in Bethlehem was just a short trip away, to bloody clashes as the second Palestinian Intifada broke in the early 2000s. I’ve seen it all; some of my classmates were first responders at bus and restaurant bombings and I remember my 5th-year surgical rotation when room 5 held three victims of a stabbing attack and room 6, heavily guarded, held the injured attacker.
In the years since, I have completed a pediatric residency, obtained my Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute, held a pediatric Endocrinology fellowship, and received my post-doc in Toronto. I started my own digital health start-up and am about to return to Israel and launch my own lab as a physician-scientist.
Throughout all of these endeavours I have never stopped being thankful for my “failed” year in Talpiot, where I learned that no one could be good at everything. My six subsequent years at Hebrew U taught me the intricacies of medicine and medical sciences while opening me up to the intricacies of human experience, history, and geopolitics in a very tangible manner. I am also grateful to the Hadassah Hospital donors who support scholarships for students like myself. Thank you to everyone – wherever I went in my life and medical career, I was ready. Ready to learn, ready to embrace the experience, ready to fail, and ready to try again.
Shai is currently a staff endocrinologist and co-founder of DeepHx.ai; in summer 2021, he will assume a position as a physician-scientist at Sheba Medical Center, Israel.