Kauai News

$10M Gift to Help Address Kaua‘i’s Physician Shortage

Posted March 17, 2022, 12:12 PM HST

A major funding gift from the founder of social media giant Facebook and his wife will help address the physician shortage and improve access to health care on Kaua‘i.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine announced Wednesday, March 16, in a press release that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, have committed $10 million throughout a six-year period to fund a new multi-pronged program called Kaua‘i Medical Training Track.

Six medical students from the John A. Burns School of Medicine — with ties to Kaua‘i or another neighbor island and/or a strong interest in rural health — will be accepted into the program annually, beginning with the first cohort in July. The program will fund tuition and fees for all four years, as well as transportation and lodging.

“No one brings the level of intimate knowledge and skilled attention to the health of the community as well as someone who is from the community, trained in the community and chooses to serve that community,” said Kaua‘i District Health Officer Dr. Janet Berreman in the press release. “This program is a much-needed opportunity to support the medical training of Kaua‘i’s future physicians, while ensuring that their training prepares them to live and practice here.”

Berreman added that being the district health officer on Kaua‘i for five years, including through the COVID-19 pandemic, has highlighted for her the critical importance of health care providers who are deeply embedded in and committed to our community.

According to the University of Hawaiʻi’s 2021 Annual Report for the State Legislature, Kaua‘i needs more than 61 doctors to meet the island’s current health care needs. Kaua‘i health indicators also note that the Garden Island has more uninsured people, more strokes and hypertension and more adults with cancer than the rest of the state.

The physician shortage, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic, poses serious challenges for all residents — especially those struggling with chronic illness and preventable diseases.

Dr. Travis Hong

Dr. Travis Hong, who was born and raised on Kaua‘i, was appointed director of rural training and will oversee the program. Currently a physician at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children in Honolulu specializing in pediatric emergency medicine, Hong is passionate about medical student and resident education and mentoring.

“Like all physicians who grew up on Kaua‘i, I left the island for school and training, but Kaua‘i has always been home to me,” he said in the press release. “Having an opportunity to significantly improve health care on Kaua‘i has been a dream of mine since returning to Hawai‘i and I am so grateful and honored to be a part of this targeted and very timely program.”

Integral to the program’s success is growing the strategic partnership between the John A. Burns School of Medicine and health care partners, including Wilcox Health and Hawai‘i Pacific Health Medical Group.

Kaua‘i medical director for Hawai‘i Pacific Health Medical Group Dr. Geri Young has been a practicing physician on Kaua‘i for more than 40 years.

“We very much appreciate the generous gift from Dr. Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg to help address the state’s physician shortage.” said Young in the press release. “Having the opportunity for medical students and residents to train on Kaua‘i is priceless, as many will ultimately decide to practice in a rural area such as Kaua‘i.”

She and her husband, Dr. Robert Teichman, are graduates of the UH-Mānoa medical school. Through the years, they have seen how so many of the school’s alumni who practice on neighbor islands serve in their communities for their entire career.

“The rewards of practicing medicine and supporting good health and wellness for our friends and neighbors are great,” Young said in the release. “This program will give our future physicians a meaningful opportunity to experience this.”

“By providing such a longitudinal opportunity for budding physicians to experience health care and life on Kaua‘i, this program has wonderful potential to address the physician shortage on the neighbor islands and inspire more of our own healers to return to serve our communities after completing their training,” said Ho‘ola Lahui Hawai‘i Chief Medical Director Dr. Kapono Chong-Hanssen in the press release.

John A. Burns School of Medicine Dean Jerris Hedges said doctors who train in rural areas, especially areas where they have family and community ties, are more likely to practice in a rural setting.

“To address Kaua‘i’s physician shortage, we need more medical students from Kaua‘i, and we must expand medical training on Kaua‘i.” said Hedges in the press release. “(John A. Burns School of Medicine) selects 80% or more of its student population from the state of Hawai‘i and has one of the highest rates of graduate retention in the nation post training. This six-year initiative will help us grow medical student and resident trainee numbers on Kaua‘i and help practicing doctors on Kaua‘i benefit from the stimulating educational environment associated with training new doctors.”

The $10 million gift will also enable the John A. Burns School of Medicine to:

  • Develop a faculty base and offer rural residencies to equip future physicians with the experience needed to practice on Kaua‘i and other rural communities that do not have multiple specialists readily available.
  • Add 21 residents to Kaua‘i annually.
  • Hire a Kaua‘i director for Interdisciplinary training and simulation and support staff to oversee and expand interdisciplinary training and education with Kaua‘i Community College health sciences students.

“Expanding the medical community will help improve access to health care services for local residents — which is crucial to building a healthier community on Kaua‘i,” said Zuckerberg and Chan in the press release. “We’re honored to support the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaiʻi as they strive to address the physician shortage by creating a more robust pipeline of doctors.”

UH President David Lassner said the university is grateful to Chan and Zuckerberg for their generous gift and commitment to community health.

“This gift will have a lasting ripple effect that will directly improve the health and wellness of Kaua‘i’s families today, and in the future,” said Lassner in the press release.

“We believe the collaborative relationships built between the various health care organizations on Kaua‘i will provide a valuable experience for these medical students and help them appreciate the famous saying “Maikaʻi Kauaʻi, hemolele I ka malie (Beautiful Kaua‘i, peaceful in the calm),” Chong-Hanssen said in the press release.

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