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Nonprofit wins small victory in effort to recruit doctors

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald Dr. Tara Reed of Mountain View sits across from Mayor Harry Kim in his office Tuesday as they discuss her plans to return to the Big Island in 17 months when she officially becomes an internal medicine specialist.

A physician who is training to become an internal medicine specialist says she plans to return home to practice medicine on Hawaii Island — a big win for a nonprofit that’s fighting the doctor shortage.

Physicians complete a residency program of at least three years after medical school, alongside doctors in their chosen specialty.

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Dr. Tara Reed just passed the halfway point of her internal medicine residency at Oregon Health & Science University. Upon completion of her residency, she expects to return to Hawaii Island to practice medicine at Bay Clinic.

“She wants to come back,” said Dr. David Jung, a board member of the nonprofit Hui Kahu Malama, or “caretakers group.” The group was formed by Hawaii Island physicians seeking new doctors to offset a prolonged shortage.

“We’re blessed to have a physician like Tara come back home,” said Hui Kahu Malama board member Breeani Lee.

Reed is the first physician the nonprofit has worked with who has committed to practicing medicine on the island long term.

Hui Kahu Malama helps physicians afford a rural medicine rotation during their residency programs by paying for necessities such as travel. Board members cite research that physicians tend to stay near where they train. A rural medicine rotation on the island, they hope, will entice more physicians to settle here.

Reed met with Hui Kahu Malama board members Tuesday at the office of Mayor Harry Kim during an assessment of the nonprofit’s work so far.

Kim directly asked Reed if she plans to return to the island after her residency program.

“I’m definitely coming back,” she said without hesitation as Kim beamed with joy.

“You’re making me feel good. I’m not kidding about how long ago they’ve been trying to tell me of this crisis building,” Kim said of the doctor shortage.

A 2017 report to the Hawaii Legislature said more than half of the state’s physicians will reach retirement age of 65 within the next nine years.

But efforts to boost the number of physicians on Hawaii Island are ramping up. Hui Kahu Malama wants to be at the forefront by convincing internal medicine specialists to practice on the island.

Often, they do residency programs in hospitals and end up practicing as hospitalists instead of at community clinics. Convincing them to do a rural-medicine rotation at a clinic on Hawaii Island is an effort to counteract that.

Reed, for example, grew up in Mountain View and went to Waiakea High School.

She credited her teachers, parents and professional mentors for her success — and is eager to return.

“There’s just something special around here that I couldn’t find anywhere else,” she said. She’s especially fond of East Hawaii.

Reed’s parents, Lina and Rex Reed, own Keaau’s Hawaii Catchment Company.

Lina Reed said in a telephone interview they’re hopeful their daughter can encourage young Hawaii Island students to pick medicine as a career — and will then encourage them to also return home.

“We’re just very grateful that she wants to come back and be working over here on this island,” Lina Reed said.

Tara Reed said the longer she’s in training, the more she realizes “how much I don’t know,” prompting a collective nod from the physicians gathered in the mayor’s office. A physician who recognizes she doesn’t know everything will excel in medicine, they said.

Kim praised Hui Kahu Malama.

“If it weren’t for our doctors here, we’d be in a much worse situation than we are in,” he said.

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Because of the many efforts to attract physicians to the island, Kim said, “I feel we have a good chance. We have a good chance of not becoming that crisis level.”

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.