HONOLULU (KHON2) — The COVID-19 pandemic shed light on the need for more healthcare workers in the state, meanwhile, doctors said the physician shortage is an issue that has been in need of solutions for many years now and they said the shortage will only deepen if more is not done to attract and retain doctors. 

From last year’s physician workforce numbers, the state is short roughly 750 doctors. 

Download the free KHON2 app for iOS or Android to stay informed on the latest news

It is an issue that for patients results in long waits for appointments, and for doctors an overwhelming workload. 

The John A. Burns School of Medicine Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum said the work for doctors often continues past their office hours. 

Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum said, “Office hours finish at six, and then you might, you know, rush home to do kind of family duties, but then you’re actually doing charting, you know, until midnight, and those kinds of things, or you’re checking labs and doing phone calls to patients at eight o’clock at night.”

Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum said retaining more students in the state and increasing the number of physicians on neighbor islands are the school’s main goals. 

“Many of those are the high school complexes, you know, do have health academies,” Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum said. “And so we work a lot with them. But there are a lot of these programs just to kind of help expose some of these younger ones to the possibility.”

She said there are currently 77 medical students enrolled in the school, which is more than when she attended. But expanding enrollment for more students is not a simple task, more faculty is needed to teach those courses. 

Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum said, “Ideally, we would be able to train 100. And, you know, we hope to gradually get there, but we need a faculty to teach them.”

Dr. Scott Grosskreutz is a radiology specialist on the Big Island. One of his concerns is the number of doctors who are currently practicing and nearing retirement. 

“Currently we have the second oldest healthcare workforce in the country, 37 % of the physicians in the State of Hawaii are over age 60, 25% statewide are over 65,” Dr. Grosskreutz said. “On the Big Island a third of us, myself included, are over 65.”

Gov. Ige signed into law a bill that expands training opportunities on neighbor islands, with the intent to retain talent in rural parts of the state. 

But even for high-income earners, housing could still be a challenge and it is an issue they hope could be addressed in next year’s legislative session. 

Check out what’s going on around the nation on our National News page

Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum said, “We have some wonderful physicians who, who were recruited in from the continent to and they were Island and they’ve been here eight years and they’re still renting.”