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Funding to help relieve shortage of Hawaii doctors

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Gov. Linda Lingle is releasing a $140,000 appropriation for a training program on the Big Island to help relieve a worsening statewide physician shortage, especially in rural areas.

"It’s incredibly good news," said state Sen. Josh Green, a Big Island emergency physician and medical director of organizational development for the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association. It was announced to the applause of about 130 Hawaii health care leaders who were hearing mostly grim news about Hawaii’s physician deficits yesterday at the Waikiki Beach Marriott Hotel during the Hawaii Physician Workforce Summit.

"With the growing physician shortage we face in Hawaii, this is a crucially important step forward," said Dr. Jerris Hedges, dean of the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine.

The funding to the medical school totals $70,000 for fiscal year 2009-2010 (which ends today) and another $70,000 for 2010-2011 (which starts tomorrow).

Now that the money has been released, TriWest Healthcare Alliance will match it with $500,000 per year for five years for an interdisciplinary training program for medical residents, nurse practitioners and undergraduates, Green said.

Hedges said he was "just thrilled" at the state commitment to the Hawaii Island Family Health Center residency training program. He said it would be tight to encumber this year’s $70,000 before the year ends today, but the funds will be used to cover Hilo residency development expenses and redirect tuition dollars for clinical faculty recruitment.

He said it’s hoped the TriWest matching model can be used for other sites, such as Wahiawa General Hospital, home base for the current family medicine residency program.

The summit was convened to hear the latest dire information about Hawaii’s present and potential physician shortfalls and set priorities to try and resolve the problems.

A work force assessment by medical school Drs. Kelley Withy and David Sakamoto shows a Big Island crisis with 38 percent fewer doctors than needed and developing crises in other areas.

The state is short 500 doctors now across nearly all specialties. The biggest needs are for primary care doctors, cardiologists, anesthesiologists, diagnostic radiologists, gastroenterologists, internists, general surgeons and infectious disease specialists.

Withy pointed out that 41 percent of Hawaii’s doctors (1,335) will be 65 in the next 10 years with a potential loss of 134 physicians per year as they retire.

Speakers offered a range of solutions such as increased training and use of physician assistants, advanced practice nurses, interdisciplinary teams and training of medical students and residents.

Hedges said most of the things the speakers touched on "we have in motion" at the medical school. The school has no physician assistant program but is working with two Oregon colleges to train six Hawaii applicants per year as physician assistants, he said.

He said a $6 million budget cut to the school the last two years has affected staffing for training and providing graduate medical education.

In the Big Island residency training program, newly graduated medical doctors or residents spend three years in family practice training under the medical school’s Department of Family Practice and Community Health. It’s hoped to graduate four family medicine specialists each year—and that they will open practices on the Big Island after completing training.



» In an earlier version, State Sen. Josh Green’s job position at the Hawaii Independent Physicians Association was incorrect.


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