Despite ramped up efforts, Hawaii still plagued by doctor shortage


Experts say we’re making progress against the shortage of doctors here in Hawaii, but there’s a long way to go. They say the state could still use several hundred more, with the greatest needs on the Big Island and Oahu.

The director of University of Hawaii’s John A. Burns School of Medicine Area Health Education Center says the greatest needs is for primary care doctors, not specialists.

UH is encouraging more health care workers to fill the gap and reaching out to high school and college students to get them interested in health care careers.

“The shortage is actually greater on the neighbor islands, but for one thing we don’t train enough, we only train about 80 a year on a good year, and we need to grow it by at least 100 probably 150 a year, 200 would be nice,” said Dr. Kelley Withy.

Withy says there are not enough residency or post graduate training programs here in Hawaii, and that coupled with low pay with the high cost of living doesn’t help encourage doctors to stay.

“Unless you grow up here it’s hard to get and keep people to come to Hawaii to practice,” Withy adds.

Right now, there are 2,900 doctors licensed to treat patients in Hawaii, according to the Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment. The state gained a net of 97 doctors last year, but there is still a shortage of 500.

Ka Ohi Dang Akiona, a physician on the Big Island explained how the shortage has impacted her: “The shortage has helped us grow faster because we need to learn more but then its easier for me to look at my colleagues coming through the pipeline and say we need you guys so badly, our physicians on the Big Island especially are aging.”

Sophia Ye, from the Hawaii Pre-Health Career Corps says, ” its all about getting started early and learning about the different careers and opportunities you can do in the future,.”

KHON asked Dr. Withy, “do you believe with these efforts we are going to try to move in the right direction?”

Her response, “its not enough, I think we need a very robust loan repayment program, we need to expand training, we need to pay better.”

The UH medical school has been working to fill the gap by increasing class sizes.

It also established a loan repayment program for people who commit to practice in rural areas.

The school has also published the Health Care Career Naviagator that details every health care position, how much education you need to pursue that field and the average salary.

This free resource is offered to high school and college students who are interested in healthcare careers. Click here to visit that page.

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