Family Medicine doctor January Andaya, (John A. Burns School of Medicine 2016) at the Mililani Physician Center.

The doctor shortage in Hawaiʻi eased a bit in the past year, as 97 new physicians received licenses to practice. That’s compared to the year before, when the number of newly licensed doctors was only four.

The latest figures are from the Hawaiʻi Physician Workforce Assessment, released today. The survey, by the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), looks at newly issued physician licenses, as well as the numbers of doctors retiring every year.

A fee on doctor’s licenses, which are issued every two years, funds the survey. The UH medical school’s Kelley Withy has spearheaded the effort to quantify and address the ongoing doctor shortage.

“The physician workforce numbers are looking a little better,” said Withy, director of the John A. Burns School of Medicine Area Health Education Center. “We gained 97 physicians net in the last year, which is better than the prior year when we gained four physicians, net. We did lose 45 to retirement but we gained enough to make up for that. So it’s looking better but we still have a shortage of 500 physicians overall.”

Efforts to encourage healthcare workers include:

  • Maintaining a jobs website advertising openings at hospitals, clinics and in practices in Hawaiʻi
  • Conducting numerous teen health camps statewide every year where elementary, middle school and high school students get hands-on practice in patient care, mentored by medical, nursing and dental hygiene students
  • Establishing a speaker’s bureau to get health workers out to community groups and schools to talk about the rewards and challenges of health careers
  • Establishing a loan repayment program for early career health providers to repay their student loans if they commit to practice in rural/underserved areas
  • Increasing the size of classes at JABSOM and in the MD specialty training programs, including fellowships, that new doctors must complete, which are overseen by the medical school in partnership with major hospitals in Hawaiʻi

The medical school and Hawaiʻi State Department of Health also sponsored the annual Hawaiʻi Health Workforce Summit to advance efforts to cope with the expected flood of physician retirements to come in the years ahead while also meeting the needs of the state’s growing elder population.

For more, read the JABSOM story.

—By Tina Shelton