Roughly 150 doctors left Hawaii this year because of the high cost of living, lack of educational opportunities for their children and other factors, according to the latest annual Hawaii Physician Workforce Assessment.

The exodus represents about 5% of the 3,000 full-time physicians who work in the islands.

Doctors also left their practices here to care for their ill and aging parents on the mainland and because of lower pay, lower reimbursement and poor job market for their spouses, said Dr. Kelley Withy, who authored the report.

Dr. Kelley Withy John A. Burns School of Medicine
Dr. Kelley Withy, director of the JABSOM Hawaii/Pacific Basin Area Health Education Center, says doctors choose to leave Hawaii for various reasons. Deborah Manog Dimaya

Infrastructure can be a deterrent as well.

“Hospital facilities may not be up to their expectation and the atmosphere may not be what they want it to be,” Withy said.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s medical workforce continues to age.

Nearly one-quarter of all active physicians in the state are at least 65 years old. Half of them are at least 55 years old. About 100 of them retired and more than 120 cut back on their hours in 2019, the report says.

The statewide physician shortage is felt most strongly on the Big Island, while the need for primary care physicians is highest on Kauai.

There have been some improvements in specialty coverage, Withy said.

“We used to have a severe shortage of cardiologists appearing on the top of the shortage list on Oahu, but that has eased somewhat because heart specialists are now being trained locally through a fellowship established by the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and The Queen’s Medical Center,” said Withy. “Similarly, the Hawaii Island Family Medicine Residency program has eased the shortage of family medicine doctors there.”

The medical school is making plans to open a medical training site and eventually a residency on Maui which could help doctor numbers.

The full workforce report is available online.

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