UH graduates new doctors, hopes many will practice in the islands

Published: May. 13, 2012 at 8:30 PM HST|Updated: May. 14, 2012 at 8:09 AM HST
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Daniel Sugai
Daniel Sugai
Lehua de Silva
Lehua de Silva

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine welcomed 64 new doctors Sunday. But as the graduates move on, there are concerns about how many of them will return to practice in Hawaii.

JABSOM officials say the state is about 600 physicians short of what it should have. But the university is hoping that many from the latest crop of graduates will return home to make up that shortfall.

In his remarks at the convocation ceremony at the Kennedy Theatre at the UH Manoa campus, medical school Dean Jerris Hedges reminded the graduates of the importance of returning to service in the same place where they first became doctors.

Two years ago, a JABSOM survey revealed several factors explaining why the state doesn't have enough doctors. Hedges said many of those reasons still remain.

"It's hard to recruit to Hawaii because of the cost of living, as well as the cost of practice and reimbursement is a bit lower here in Hawaii than elsewhere in the nation," said Hedges. "We don't have enough post-graduate training programs, so many have to go elsewhere in the U.S. Of those who leave the state, a little over half, we are able to recruit back. That's still one of the best figures in the nation, but not as high as we would like."

Class president Daniel Sugai plans to return home once he finishes his residency, training for dermatology at Harvard. "We have this charm," Sugai said, "The aloha spirit is just so unique and our families are all here. We all want to come back and the people who take care of us, we want to give back and take care of them."

JABSOM is also home to the nation's only department in Native Hawaiian health. Six of the new doctors are coming from the program, which centers on assisting the population that has some of the greatest health disparities in the state.

"I was lucky enough to go to school on scholarship from the Kahanamoku Foundation and Kamehameha Schools so we have a really embedded need to give back to the people of Hawaii and Native Hawaiians," said Lehua de Silva, a graduate specializing in obstetrics and gynecology. "Being native Hawaiian, we have a greater responsibility to do that."

Of today's 64 graduates, only six are students from the mainland, so the probability of having more doctors returning home looks promising.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.