Hawaii is launching a new program to attract doctors and nurses to under-served areas, by offering to help then payoff their medical school loans.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced this latest health care outreach Thursday at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
Thanks to $300,000 in seed money from the Queen’s Medical Center and the Hawaii Medical Services Association, the state will be able to get matching federal funds to hire primary care doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in rural areas.
"Sometimes it's harder to get them there because primary care pays lower, and certain positions in rural areas pay lower. But, this can assure people that at least they don’t have to worry about their school loans," said Dr. Kelly Withy, director of the Hawaii Area Health Education Center.
Besides helping to provide care to areas like Molokai, Hana, Maui and Pahoa on the Big Island, the program will also cover staff at prison clinics as well the community health centers on Oahu.
Big Island Sen Josh Green came to the islands under a similarly structured program years ago. The National Health Corps launched him from Pittsberg, to Kau.
"I went into family practice and I would have had enormous debt.
Kau had no doctor and that's how we provided healthcare for Kau in Big Island for many years. This program is a direct product of the experience that I had," said Green.
The new program will pay $40,000 in school loans each year, in exchange for working in a high-need area.
"For full-time service, it is $40,000. We would like to add part -time which is $20,000. We would like to add other services as behavioral health and dental," Withy said.
According to Withy, the state only received approval for the program on Sept 6th, so things are moving fast.
Applications for this year are due Oct. 1.
Three people will be selected for this first year.
The hope is to expand the program to help about a dozen people next year. Ideally, Wirthy want to be able to build the program to 50 participants.