Hawaii News

State HELPing hundreds of health care professionals stay in the islands

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In its first round, the state’s new Hawaiʻi Healthcare Education Loan Repayment Program (HELP) is alleviating the educational debt of 492 medical and health care professionals. 

To ease the shortages of physicians and other health care professionals by retaining those who already practice in Hawaiʻi and recruiting those who are in medical residency training programs on the mainland, the governor’s office, University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine, the Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health and others developed HELP.

The Hawaiʻi Legislature during its 2023 session funded an unprecedented $30 million throughout two years in educational loan repayment to health professionals licensed or otherwise certified to practice in and provide care to patients in Hawai‘i.

HELP builds on the decade-old, federally funded Hawaiʻi State Loan Repayment Program. It reaches more health care professionals in one year than the prior program reached in the past 10 years.


In exchange for two years of full-time service in Hawaiʻi, high-demand health care professionals will qualify for loan repayments up to a maximum of $50,000 per year. The eligible amount varies depending on the profession, location of practice, and educational indebtedness.

All must provide care to or work for organizations with at least 30% of their patients receiving public insurance.

The first application window opened Sept. 9 and closed Oct. 2. On Wednesday, just in time for Christmas, 492 awardees received acceptance letters. 

“It is so rewarding to see this program come to fruition, as it was this type of assistance that first brought me to Hawaiʻi so many years ago,” said Hawaiʻi Gov. Josh Green. “I saw first-hand how desperately needed medical care is, especially in rural areas of the islands, and for underserved populations. HELP will prove to be a great start toward decreasing our longstanding and challenging shortage of healthcare professionals across the state.”


The first HELP cohort includes nearly 300 primary care and behavioral health providers throughout the state, 90 other specialists or professionals practicing in rural areas and about 40 medical residents in training.

John A. Burns School of Medicine Interim Dean Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum is excited that about 110 physicians, including 66 in primary care specialties, and many others in high-demand specialties are getting HELP.

The average indebtedness of physician applicants is about $185,000, with 20% having more than $300,000 left to pay off.

“The COVID-19 pandemic took its toll on many, especially those in private practice. Most have not fully recovered and face difficult decisions about staying in Hawaiʻi,” said Buenconsejo-Lum. “This program helps us keep local doctors and other providers here despite our very high cost of living and myriad other challenges.” 


Marc and Lynne Benioff are providing major philanthropic support for HELP with an additional $5 million throughout two years to help retain health professionals on the Big Island. Out of the first 400 recipients, 77 from the island will receive loan repayment from the state funds.

An additional 65 Big Island providers will receive funding from Marc and Lynne Benioff in this first round.

“We are so proud of this amazing first group of HELP awardees and pleased to be able to support bringing an additional 65 providers to Hawaiʻi Island for essential medical services,” said Marc and Lynne Benioff, who recently reached the milestone of $100 million in donations to Hawaiʻi’s local organizations and programs during the past 20 years. “Nothing is more important than the health of our community, and access to care for all who need it.” 

The HELP initiative has generated significant interest from health care professionals looking to stay in Hawaiʻi and others on the mainland looking to return to Hawaiʻi.

Healthcare Association of Hawai‘i President and CEO Hilton Raethel said the program is a game changer in terms of addressing health care workforce shortages throughout the state.  

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the health care workforce shortage in Hawaiʻi. Hawaiʻi needs more doctors, behavioral health professionals, nurses and other health care professionals, especially in rural areas, to take care of the people of Hawaiʻi,” said Raethel. “We are very grateful to the state legislature, and the Governor, for their support of this first-in-the-nation program which provides a model for addressing health care workforce shortages in states across the country.”

For more information, visit the Hawaiʻi HELP website.


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