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Match Day Sees Increased Competition, Limited Slots for Soon-To-Be Doctors

UH John A. Burns School of Medicine
A close-up of the envelope opening ceremony during Match Day, where medical school seniors find out if - and where - they'll train for the next three to seven years before becoming a full-fledged doctor.

It’s Match Day madness at medical schools across the country today as med school seniors find out if – and where – they’ll train to become full-fledged doctors. For Hawai?i, Match Day is especially crucial because its an opportunity for local residency programs to recruit the next generation of doctors to fill the state’s growing physician shortage.

Marlene Keawe is the CEO of the Hawai?i Residency Program, the largest medical training program in the state with more than 200 trainees at some of Hawai?i's most notable medical institutions including Queen's, Straub, and Kapi?olani medical centers. She says this year, competition is high. The program received more than 9,400 applications to fill 62 slots.

“Our goal every year of course is that we fill every one of those slots. We want to make sure we bring in people that really are going to want to stay here in Hawai?i,” says Keawe, “So we try to pitch Hawai?i what we offer here so that when they come to our residency programs, they stay here.”

Aside from the Hawai?i Residency Program, soon-to-be doctors are also vying for limited training slots with the Hawai?i Island Family Medicine Residency Program - the state's only neighbor island residency program - and the Kaiser Permanente Internal Medicine Residency Program.

Kaiser spokeswoman Laura Lott says the program's received more than 1,400 applications for five open slots this year. An estimated 77 percent of the residents who train with Kaiser end up practicing in Hawai?i.

According to the Association of American Medical Colleges, there’s an 86 percent chance that our medical school grads who land residencies here in Hawai?i will practice here long-term.

“If we can train them here, they’re going to be much more committed to care for our population,” says Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at JABSOM. She also oversees the school’s graduate medical education programs.

This year, Hawai?i will offer a little more than 100 residency slots to aspiring doctors with 27 of them going to JABSOM graduates.  These numbers are still nowhere near what is needed to fill the state’s doctor shortage, which currently stands at a little more than 1,000 physicians.

“We wanna have more training programs and we want to expand some of our programs. We need to create new programs, but that all takes resources,” says Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum.

She says a federal funding cap put in place by Congress more than 20 years ago effectively froze the amount of money available for residency programs.

“We?re continuing to work on that slowly, but until the federal financing of graduate medical education changes, we?re not going to be able to grow substantially in the way that we want,” says Dr. Buenconsejo-Lum.

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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