Hawaii is dealing with a shortage of doctors and healthcare professionals in general.

The issue is nothing new, but the numbers are still sobering.

According to the Hawaii Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center (AHEC), Hawaii is currently short 450 physicians, but when you take islands and specialties into account there’s a shortage jumps to 808.

Twenty-five percent of the doctor shortfall is Primary Care Providers.

Dr. Kelley Withy, the director of the AHEC at the John A. Burns School of Medicine, said that’s not the only issue Hawaii is dealing with, “The problem is we only have 100 open positions for doctors right now, so even if we had 800 doctors it wouldn’t matter. We could only hire 100.”

Dr. Withy went on to explain that, “doctors used to go into practice on their own. They used to just open an office. Now they don’t want to do that. It’s a lot risk, they have a lot of debt, it’s difficult to do, to hire people, to fire people, to take the risk of the insurance paying you, and so they’d rather just get a job. “

One of the ways AHEC hopes to remedy this problem is through its ‘Bridge to Practice’ mentoring program that connects private practice doctors near the age of retirement with younger doctors.

“We’re trying to get young doctors to meet the senior doctors so they can take over their practice when they want to retire,” Dr. Withy said.

Senator Josh Green, who also happens to be a practicing physician on the Big island, said that the problem is more pronounced on the neighbor islands.

“It is very difficult everywhere to get a doctor to work in a rural community,” Green explained.

AHEC is dedicated to encouraging students to become doctors. Dr. Withy said, “my office makes a promise. Any student in Hawaii who wants to go into health careers, we will help them.”

What’s being done:

  • State funded loan repayment
  • Increased rural training
  • Advertising positions for free
  • Help for students
  • Welcome Wagon program
  • Continuing education

For more detailed information about AHEC and the programs available to assist healthcare professionals visit http://www.ahec.hawaii.edu/