More help on the way for Hawaii's doctors

By Duane Shimogawa - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - It's a concern for many in the medical field, recruiting and retaining doctors.

Especially since around a quarter of Hawaii's doctors are at or near retirement age.

But some much needed reinforcements are on the way.

Just half of the students who go through the John A. Burns School of Medicine come back to work in Hawaii.

But officials hope that number goes up with this new class of students.

On Friday night, more than 60 students will officially get into the medical program.

Kauai's Zac Thielen is one of them.

At first, he wanted to be an engineer, but after volunteering in the medical field, he says becoming a doctor was the right fit.

"Felt so good," he said. "It's just such a relief, it's so hard to get here. It is such a challenge, so many good applicants. To know that you've been selected is just a real weight off your shoulders. I feel very fortunate."

Thielen also hopes to get the opportunity to go back to the Garden Isle to fill the glaring need for doctors.

"It'd be nice to fill the gap and help promote others in the same footsteps to let other kids know that it is possible and we have great facilities in Hawaii to learn," he said.

During Friday night's ceremony, the coats are placed on the students' shoulders. It signifies their entry into medical study and the responsibility they take on: To care for patients.

"I think by identifying the students early in their careers who has the desire to perform on the outer islands will help bolster these communities with not only primary care physicians, but also sub-specialists," Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine Dr. James Ireland said.

Pearl City's Kristie Akamine knew from the start that she wanted to be a doctor.

"I've always said I want to go to medical school," she said. "I want to go to medical school. I want to be a doctor and now I'm in medical school and I'm actually going to become a doctor, which is kind of weird, but it's awesome, it's amazing."

Peter Thorson has a wife and a young son waiting for him back in Maui, while he studies to become a doctor.

"He said, something like, 'Is daddy a doctor yet.' My wife just had to laugh and said 'no,' not for about a decade, you know, so," he said.

For some, it's a long journey that's worth wait.

Students from Hawaii make up 90 percent of the incoming class of 2012. That includes 18 students who graduated from public high schools and 33 from private schools.

Almost 90 percent of students who go on to do their internships or get their residency in Hawaii, stay here.

That's why doctors in the islands encourage them to stay here when choosing an internship.

The white coat ceremony took place at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Hotel on Friday night. The students performed a Hawaiian chant, or Oli and recited the Hippocratic Oath. They also heard from their chosen speaker, Dr. Jill Omori.

starting at 6:30 in the coral ballroom of the hilton hawaiian village hotel.

it's free and open to the public.