Hawaii is facing a statewide physician shortage of 29 percent.
Specialties such as oncology are completely or nearly completely absent in neighboring island counties.
There is hope in streamlining resources to Hawaii’s students who express interest in working in the medical field.
Have you ever spent an excessive amount of time trying to reach your doctor’s office? Or moved your schedule around in order to snag one of the few appointments your doctor had left? Or perhaps even gone without care when unable to find an eligible physician who accepted new patients?
You are not alone, as these challenges are all impacts of Hawaii’s dramatic physician shortage. Findings from the Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment by the University of Hawaii (UH) revealed that as of 2020, Hawaii is facing a statewide physician shortfall of 29 percent. Certain specialties and neighbor island counties are even more severely affected. The study covered many key factors of the shortage, as well as possible solutions which we have summarized below.
Oncology in particular is facing a statewide shortage of 44 percent.
Oahu’s largest shortages are 40-55 percent in a few specialties. Furthermore, neighboring island counties are either completely or nearly completely lacking many different fields of care, facing shortages in percentages from 80-100. Oncology in particular is facing a statewide shortage of 44 percent, with the island of Hawaii facing a shortage of 95 percent. The absence of oncology among other specialties often drives outer-island residents to frequently commute to Oahu for care. This practice can be both stressful for patients and overwhelming for Oahu’s physicians, seeing as Oahu is still facing a 29 percent shortage of oncologists. Hawaii ranks 28th in the nation in terms of care availability according to an article by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), and the difficulty of traveling between islands or states worsens the issue's impact on Hawaii’s patients.
Alarmingly, a figure provided by UH revealed that the 2020 pandemic brought the sharpest decrease in physician supply in the past ten years, leaving Hawaii short of a total of 1,000 doctors, as many reduced their hours or retired early.
Moving forward, there is significant promise in streamlining resources toward Hawaii’s students interested in becoming medical professionals. For example, Hawaii’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) is planning a program called “A Young Doctor’s Hui,” which will hold social activities and create networking opportunities for young physicians. Similarly, the Hawaii Chamber of Commerce has created the Oahu Healthcare Sector Partnership: a large network of healthcare professionals dedicated to solving issues within the healthcare system through efficient allocation of resources and creative collaboration with industries and students.
There have also been local efforts to educate and even train high school students interested in joining the medical field. The international club HOSA: Future Health Professionals which encourages students to seek out hands-on opportunities, has become prevalent in Hawaii’s high schools. At Breast Cancer Hawaii, we have six high school interns currently gaining firsthand experience in the world of cancer support.
Additionally, one of Hawaii’s largest healthcare organizations, Hawaii Pacific Health, is dedicated to providing opportunities for Hawaii’s youth. Their annual Summer Research Internship allows high school students to shadow medical professionals and obtain clinical experience in their fields of interest! Another one of their programs trains high school seniors to become Medical Assistants. With a current exam pass rate of 100 percent, their Medical Assistant Program enables its alumni to work in a clinical hospital setting immediately out of high school! Since many participants choose to foster their connections with Hawaii’s hospitals, local programs such as these are instrumental in the long-term growth of Hawaii’s healthcare system.
For complete information on the shortage and the steps being taken to counteract it, feel free to take a look at UH’s full report linked below!
Julia Tefft is an intern at Breast Cancer Hawaii. She is a junior at Kalani High School and a member of the club, HOSA: Future Health Professionals. While she aspires to work as a nurse or a similar helping career in the medical field, she enjoys writing and dedicating her free time toward other projects she is passionate about.