Rachel Levy was expected to become a teacher, like many women in her religious community, but decided that she wanted a bigger challenge: today she is now in her third year of medical school and hoping to become a doctor.
Growing up as one of 5 children in one of Israel’s poorest southern towns, there was never enough money to go around. Resisting family pressure to start work, and trying to figure out what she wanted to do with her life, she decided to volunteer for a year in one of Israel’s leading hospitals. On her first day she was sent to the oncology ward, where she met her first cancer patient sitting and crying in the corridor.
“I felt completely helpless but realized that I really wanted to know how to help her and other people like her. I didn’t want to save her life – I recognized that there are many diseases that doctors cannot yet cure – but I wanted to do something to make her life a little better. ”
Rachel found her work in the hospital so fulfilling that she was inspired to become a nurse. So she signed up for the courses that she would need to take in order to qualify for university, as she had not graduated high school with the right qualifications. Knowing that her parents would not be able to pay for her university tuition, she started working in the evenings to save money. “I worked incredibly hard that year – I had no time for friends or fun – but I was driven to get into university so that I could study nursing.”
While she was cleaning offices in the evenings, she met a doctor who invited her to work with him as a researcher. “During our conversations he told me that he didn’t think that being a nurse would be enough for me. Even if I did well, the best I could hope for was a career in hospital management, which would not have satisfied me. He encouraged me to seize the opportunity to be the best that I could be – to apply to medical school and become a doctor. He was the first person to encourage me to dream big.”
So Rachel applied to three universities and went through the process of aptitude tests and interviews to become a medical student. She chose Ben Gurion University because she liked their humanistic approach to medicine. Having been accepted onto the course, she realized that her savings were inadequate so she applied for a scholarship. She was very excited to receive a Moshal Scholarship, which solved her financial problems, but she didn’t immediately realize how much it would help her.
“During my first year, I was struggling to absorb the huge quantities of material that you have to learn at medical school. The Moshal team put on a workshop about how to study for exams and how to manage your schedule so that you don’t sink under the workload. That was crucial for me. Then, half way through the year, they invited me to a course on motivation – I don’t know how they realized that I needed a boost to keep me going at that point. Perhaps I wasn’t the only student who was struggling!”
Rachel also appreciated the opportunity to meet other Moshal scholars who were from similar non-academic backgrounds. “I come from a family that really values knowledge, and I constantly want to know more, but no one in my community had been to university. My mother regrets that she did not strive for more in her life, and she supports me in my dream to become a doctor.”
Having learned so much about how to succeed in her studies, and having done well in her first two years, Rachel is now mentoring two younger Moshal scholars and helping them to find their feet.
Last year she went back to volunteering at a local hospital, because she wants to understand every aspect of how a hospital works in order to be a more effective doctor. She also volunteered at a social center for people suffering from mental illnesses, teaching them how to cook.
“I chose to volunteer at this center because mental illness, like cancer, is something that scares me, and I want to learn how to help people who are suffering. I think it’s important not to be scared to push yourself harder, to confront your fears and take on new challenges.”
In the same spirit, during Rachel’s third year she will be helping to counsel people who are undergoing HIV Aids tests in a local clinic, and also volunteering with Magen David Adom – Israel’s ambulance service.
“The Moshal scholarship program has helped me to make the most of my opportunity to study medicine and I hope to continue to pay it forward by becoming the best doctor that I can be.”
*Not here real name