East Hawaii News

Funding Aimed at Retaining Doctors on Big Island

October 11, 2013, 3:57 PM HST
* Updated October 11, 3:59 PM
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A $1.8 million appropriation for the Primary Care Training Program at Hilo Medical Center has been released by acting Gov. Shan Tsutsui, his office said in a statement issued today.

The funding, which was approved by the state Legislature earlier year, supports a variety of medical discipline residencies including family medicine, nursing, dental hygiene, psychology and pharmacy.

Residency is the “on-the-job” training doctors receive after completing classwork at medical school. It involves working under the supervision of faculty physicians to hone skills and obtain licenses and board certification for specialties.

The training, which will begin July 2014, will be conducted at the Hawaii Island Family Health Center. Four new residents a year will be trained for three years.

The program is designed to get greater numbers of doctors to serve their residency period on the neighbor islands which in turn leads to more physicians deciding to open their practice there.

According to Tina Shelton, spokeswoman for the John A. Burns School of Medicine at UH, students who attend medical school in Hawaii and also compete their residency training in Hawaii are up to 84% likely to stay and practice in the state.

The Big Island has been particularly hard-hit by the increasing doctor shortage.

While it has 14% of the state’s population, it has only one-tenth of the state’s physicians.

In actual numbers, in 2012, Hawai`i County was 173 physicians – or 34% — short of the 514 doctors needed to adequately care for its population, according to a report submitted to state lawmakers earlier this year.

“I am excited that this critical appropriation has been authorized, which we have fought for as a Big Island community for years,” said Josh Green, a physician who represents Kona and Ka`u in the state Senate. “This program is a direct solution for our neighbor island physician shortage and will improve many peoples’ lives in our community.”

 “The collaboration of all parties involved in supporting this program is essential to provide critical care for our residents, and encourage doctors and health care providers to stay and build their careers here on the Big Island and throughout Hawaii,” said state Rep. Mark Nakashima (D-Hamakua, North Hilo, and South Hilo).

Dr. Melani Arakaki, shown addressing new medical students at a recent ceremony, is a Hilo-area native who decided to practice medicine locally after graduating from UH's Family Medicine Residency Program. JABSOM photo.

Dr. Melani Arakaki, shown addressing new medical students at a recent ceremony, is a Hilo-area native who decided to practice medicine locally after graduating from UH’s Family Medicine Residency Program. JABSOM photo.

Meanwhile, the University of Hawaii’s medical school this week celebrated the 20th anniversary of its Family Medicine Residency Program, which currently has seven of its graduates practicing on the Big Island. Six of them are in Hilo and one is in Waimea.

An effort is underway to establish a family medicine residency program for UH medical students at Hilo Medical Center.

Overall, UH’s family medicine residency program has had 70% of its graduates stay in Hawaii, Shelton said.

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