Dr. Jake Shachar Laks
Dr. Jake Shachar Laks

Dr. Jake Shachar Laks has joined the surgical staff of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, a hospital ranked ninth-best in the world by Newsweek magazine.

Jake Shachar Laks, 41, has spent his life moving between his birthplace in Israel, growing up in Farmington Hills, receiving his medical degree at the Sackler School of Medicine at Tel Aviv University, working at U.S. hospitals and now, finally, going back home to Israel.

For Laks, an oncology surgeon who specializes in treating pancreatic cancer, his aliyah is a dream come true.

“It’s always been a dream for me to go back home,” he said. “The medical community there was so difficult to enter. There were only a few positions I could move into.”

Laks, who was an associate professor at East Carolina State University before his move, has joined the surgical staff of Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel, a hospital ranked ninth-best in the world by Newsweek magazine. He is now using his highly specialized robotic surgical training for the benefit of pancreatic cancer patients in Israel and is a faculty member of Tel Aviv University.

“It’s been really exciting,” Laks said about his move to Israel in the fall of 2019. “(Sheba Medical Center) has a really incredible innovation center I have never seen anywhere else. All you have to do is talk to people around the water cooler and you get ideas for cutting-edge research.”

Laks said he has also been impressed with Sheba’s response to the COVID-19 global pandemic and its ability to secure PPE devices and ventilators in the face of a worldwide shortage.

“The initial response of the hospital was perhaps the most impressive mobilization of resources I’ve ever seen,” he said. “The entire hospital switched to working in three separate pods around the clock to minimize the possibility of health care workers becoming infected and causing a shortage of health care staff while still being able to deliver quality and efficient health care.  

“That type of mobilization of resources would have taken months of negotiations and board meetings to get approved in a hospital in the United states. (The mobilization) occurred essentially overnight in an Israeli hospital whose structural operation runs more like an army division than a hospital at times of emergency.  This proved to be a great asset in the initial response.”

Laks obtained his bachelor’s of science degree in biology from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. After receiving his medical education in Israel, he did his surgery residency at St. Louis University in Missouri and his surgical oncology fellowship at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He also spent six years at Columbia Surgical Associates and at the University of Missouri. He practiced for an additional three years at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

Laks’ family joined him on the move, including his wife, Meital, who is a veterinarian, and his two daughters, Noam Renee, 11, and Einav Elle, 10. Laks met Meital when he was going through medical school in Israel.

His daughters are becoming accustomed to Israel, which he said is very different from America in terms of schooling.

“My oldest daughter was struggling with Hebrew, but she is getting used to it,” he said, recalling with a laugh a Jewish phrase that goes something like, “learn to use your elbows.”

“She came from a very coddled Hebrew school in the states, where it was a very controlled environment,” he said. “She is learning to use her elbows.”

Laks said he is thrilled to have the opportunity to use his robotic surgical skills for his pancreatic cancer patients and that taking the “cancer journey” with them is humbling. It is one that he has personally taken, given that his eldest daughter was diagnosed with and survived rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare cancer that develops in the soft tissue around the skeleton.

Laks has noticed the differences in the levels of communication that Israeli patients prefer, compared to American patients.

“In the states, we see a very solid line between the patients and the doctors, and it’s a line that is literally never crossed,” he said. “In Israel, that does not apply. It’s very informal. Patients have no qualms about giving you advice. It’s quite amusing. At the same time, that brings you closer to the patient and the family and it can make it difficult.”

Laks said it’s normal that all his patients have his cell phone number. And those patients take advantage of that fact. Laks said he doesn’t mind.

“If I don’t give them my number, they wouldn’t get the kind of answers or care they need,” he said. “Patients don’t really have the kind of resources they have in the states.”

Laks and his family, who are Reform, now live in Tel Mond. He says that realizing his dream of returning “home” brings him in greater connection with all aspects of Judaism, both the religion and the culture.

“One of the things I do feel is a special bond with the Jewish people and being able to take care of people who are my own,” he said. “It’s really quite rewarding to give back to a country that is a homeland to our people. It’s important we live in that home and it’s important to be part of that home. I wanted my children to grow up in Israel and feel like they belong.”

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