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Two medical students using a stethescope

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) on March 16, announced a six-year, $10 million commitment from Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. This gift will fund the new Kauaʻi Medical Training Track, a multi-pronged program on Kauaʻi to help address the physician shortage and improve access to healthcare services.

UH President David Lassner said, “We are tremendously grateful to Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg for their generous gift and commitment to our island’s community health. This gift will have a lasting ripple effect that will directly improve the health and wellness of Kauaʻi’s families today, and in the future.”

According to UH’s 2021 Annual Report for the State Legislature (PDF), Kauaʻi needs more than 61 doctors to meet the local community’s current healthcare needs. Kauaʻi health indicators also note that the Garden Island has more uninsured people, more strokes and hypertension, and more adults with cancer than the rest of Hawaiʻi. The physician shortage, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, poses serious challenges for all residents—especially for those struggling with chronic illness and preventable diseases.

Medical students putting on P P E

JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges said, “We know that doctors who train in rural areas, especially areas where they have family and community ties, are more likely to practice in a rural setting. To address Kauaʻi’s physician shortage, we need more medical students from Kauaʻi, and we must expand medical training on Kauaʻi.” Hedges continued, “JABSOM selects 80% or more of its student population from the state of Hawaiʻi and has one of the highest rates of graduate retention in the nation post training. This six-year initiative will help us grow medical student and resident trainee numbers on Kauaʻi and help practicing doctors on Kauaʻi benefit from the stimulating educational environment associated with training new doctors.”

Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg said, “Expanding the medical community will help improve access to healthcare services for local residents—which is crucial to building a healthier community on Kauaʻi. We’re honored to support the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi as they strive to address the physician shortage by creating a more robust pipeline of doctors.”

Through the Kauaʻi Medical Training Track, six JABSOM medical students, with ties to Kauaʻi or another neighbor island and/or a strong interest in rural health, will be accepted into this program annually beginning July 2022. The program will fund tuition and fees for all four years, as well as transportation and lodging.

The gift will also enable JABSOM to:

  • Develop a faculty base and offer rural residencies to equip future physicians with the experience needed to practice on Kauaʻi and in other rural communities that do not have multiple specialists readily available.
  • Add 21 residents to Kauaʻi annually.
  • Hire a Kauaʻi Director for Interdisciplinary Training and Simulation and support staff to oversee and expand interdisciplinary training and education with Kauaʻi Community College health sciences students.

Kauaʻi District Health Officer Janet Berreman added, “Being the District Health Officer on Kauaʻi for five years, including through the pandemic, has highlighted for me the critical importance of healthcare providers who are deeply embedded in and committed to our community.”

Berreman continued, “No one brings the level of intimate knowledge and skilled attention to the health of the community as well as someone who is from the community, trained in the community, and chooses to serve that community. This program is a much-needed opportunity to support the medical training of Kauaʻi’s future physicians, while ensuring that their training prepares them to live and practice here.”

Integral to the program’s success is growing the strategic partnership between JABSOM and healthcare partners, including Wilcox Health and Hawaiʻi Pacific Health Medical Group.

Medical students practicing stitches

Kauaʻi Medical Director for the Hawaiʻi Pacific Health Medical Group Geri Young has been a practicing physician on Kauaʻi for more than 40 years. She said, “We very much appreciate the generous gift from Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg to help address the state’s physician shortage.” She continued, “Having the opportunity for medical students and residents to train on Kauaʻi is priceless, as many will ultimately decide to practice in a rural area such as Kauaʻi.”

Young added, “My husband, Robert Teichman, and I are both proud graduates of JABSOM. Over the years, we have seen how so many of the JABSOM alumni who practice on our neighbor islands serve in our communities for their entire career. The rewards of practicing medicine and supporting good health and wellness for our friends and neighbors are great. This program will give our future physicians a meaningful opportunity to experience this.”

Chief Medical Director for Hoʻola Lahui Hawaiʻi Kapono Chong-Hanssen added, “By providing such a longitudinal opportunity for budding physicians to experience health care and life on Kauaʻi, this program has wonderful potential to address the physician shortage on the neighbor islands and inspire more of our own healers to return to serve our communities after completing their training. We believe the collaborative relationships built between the various health care organizations on Kauaʻi will provide a valuable experience for these medical students and help them appreciate the famous saying “Maikaʻi Kauaʻi, hemolele I ka malie (Beautiful Kauaʻi, peaceful in the calm).”

Travis Hong, who was born and raised on Kauaʻi, has been appointed director of rural training and will oversee the program. Currently a physician at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children specializing in pediatric emergency medicine, Hong is passionate about medical student and resident education and mentoring.

“Like all physicians who grew up on Kauaʻi, I left the island for school and training, but Kauaʻi has always been home to me. Having an opportunity to significantly improve healthcare on Kauaʻi has been a dream of mine since returning to Hawaiʻi and I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this targeted and very timely program,” Hong said.

Medical students in P P E giving high fives

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