Study: Hawaii's physicians shortage got worse in 2018

Study: Hawaii's physicians shortage got worse in 2018
Updated: Sep. 17, 2018 at 2:51 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii has a shortage of doctors. And this year, that shortage got a little worse.

The latest physician workforce survey found that the islands lost 51 full-time equivalent doctors from 2017 to 2018.

The total number of full-time doctors now stands at 2,927 statewide, or about 750 doctors short of what's needed across all specialties.

Put another way, Hawaii has about 22 percent fewer doctors than it needs.

The Big Island has the most severe shortage — at 41 percent. In Maui County and Kauai, the figure was about 33 percent.

Oahu, meanwhile, is short 384 doctors or about 17 percent.

Dr. Kelley Withy, executive director of the Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center at the University of Hawaii's John A. Burns School of Medicine, said there are a number of factors contributing to the shortage of doctors in the islands.

For one, older doctors are opting to retire because of more complex insurance payment systems and requirements.

And young to mid-career doctors are leaving the islands because salaries are low when compared Hawaii's high cost of living.

In fact, a study released earlier this year found Hawaii was the third worst state in the nation to practice medicine. The reasons: Low wages and a lack of opportunity.

Withy said there is work underway to woo doctors to Hawaii (and convince them to stay). Tax credits and loan repayment programs are helping, she said.

But, she added, the work is "slow going."

In the meantime, the need for physicians is only rising. And there are also shortages in other health care professions, including for nurses, physicians' assistants and psychologists.

This story will be updated. 

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