Hawaii is scrambling for physicians, health care leaders and politicians look for a solution

By Nana Ohkawa
Published On: Apr 20 2013 05:33:00 PM HST

Hawaii will be facing a major shortage of physicians in the future unless steps are taken to keep them in the islands.

HONOLULU -

Hawaii is scrambling for physicians. There's a 25 percent shortage, and the state loses about 50 physicians a year. By 2020 medical experts say Hawaii residents won't have half the physicians they need. More than 200 health care leaders got together at a physician shortage summit to discuss the problem.

"If everyone over 65 retired right now we would have trouble finding a doctor because of the older work force here," said Dr. Kelly Withy, a professor at the UH John A. Burns school of medicine.

"If you can't find a physician you don't get basic health care, and you could end up with something you didn't even know you had like severe high blood pressure and not get treated," said Dr. Josh Green, Honolulu state chairman committee on health.

But the medical community and the Legislature, are trying to stop the problem with two bills. One will set up a family residency program on the Big Island to train physicians there. The other bill is to get young students to go into science and to help with student loans. Health care leaders say the shortage is the most serious in Big Island communities, far from major medical facilities.

"When you talk about health care needs, this is a shortage epidemic I truly believe of the worst kind," said Rep. Clift Tsuji.

Keeping young doctors in the state has been a struggle. Many say it's because of the cost of living in Hawaii.

"There are a lot of places in the mainland that are a lot cheaper to live in, and you can make equivalent or sometimes even more money," said new physician Ahoora Piyam.

But, the new bills are supposed to help fix that by helping pay off debts for young physicians, and providing local residency programs that would entice them to stay.

Right now the bills are being negotiated. A final decision to pass the bills is expected to be made by Friday.

The physician training program bill asks for $2.8 million. Medical leaders say the recent expansion of the UH John A. Burns school of medicine will help keep more physicians in the state.

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