UH proposes using medical students to help ease Neighbor Island doctor shortage

UH proposes using medical students to help ease Neighbor Island doctor shortage

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii School of Medicine is proposing to use doctors-in-training to combat the growing physician shortage in the islands.

Under the proposal, the school would have cohorts of five to six students train at a neighbor island site ― and hope they end up wanting to stay there after graduation.

But getting the proposal off the ground won’t be cheap.

The school estimates the effort will cost about $1.4 million a year, and they’re hoping the state can foot the bill through the Board of Regents or the state legislature.

Dr. Jerris Hedges, dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine, said the doctor shortage on the Neighbor Islands is becoming acute.

“It’s difficult because essential preventative care is being overlooked at times, which leads to larger problems down the road,” Hedges said.

Hedges said the medical school has some neighbor island training, but it’s only for a few months at a time.

One of the students interested is Shelley Wong, a third-year medical student from Honolulu. She’s getting ready for a rotation on Kauai and wants to practice on one of the Neighbor Islands so she thinks sending more medical students to rural communities is a good idea.

“I think that would be so impactful,” Wong said. “JABSOM has been wonderful in allowing medical students like myself to experience opportunities on the Neighbor Islands.”

Wong noted that she has met many medical students who have an interest in working on the Neighbor Islands. “I think we all go into medicine with a certain calling. The more opportunities and the greater support from our school would help Hawaii,” Wong said.

Hedges said that the key to solving the doctor shortage is to train more doctors from Hawaii in Hawaii.

He added that the school is interested in eventually recruiting more faculty and that Hilo would be a an ideal first site because of shared facilities at the U.H. College of Pharmacy.

“We have a lot of personnel who have volunteered to work on behalf of the medical school,” Hedges said. “We’d want it to be consistently available so it can be an expanded resource.”

Copyright 2019 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.