Four doctors graduate from HMC’s medical residency program amid pandemic

  • Courtesy photo From left are Devin Hazama, Mililani Trask-Batti, Kallan Ross and Warren Yamashita.

Four doctors on Friday graduated from Hilo Medical Center’s Hawaii Island Family Residency program, finishing their last months of residency as the COVID-19 pandemic raged on around the world.

For co-chief resident Warren Yamashita, graduation brings mixed emotions.

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He’s sad about leaving his co-residents and the clinic’s staff and faculty who have become close friends, but he is excited about the next steps in his career.

He will join Stanford University’s addiction medicine fellowship program but plans to eventually return to the Big Island to work.

Co-chief resident Devin Hazama said graduating from the residency program seems surreal, and the feat hasn’t quite set in yet.

“When you go through residency, you’re focusing on day-to-day patient care,” he said

He will be doing a fellowship in geriatric medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Dr. Jennifer Walker, who was previously the interim director of the residency program, said this class has been resilient despite changing demands stemming from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the COVID-19 response, Yamashita said residents were among those helping at some of the island’s first screening sites, and it was neat to be a part of the preparation and planning processes.

“We’ve been blessed to be spared from it, but the weight of the profession has really been amplified with the pandemic,” he said.

Hazama said it was challenging trying to assimilate the early onslaught of information, which changed day-to-day in the beginning of the pandemic.

But the telehealth program helped ensure the doctors could continue to provide care for their many vulnerable patients, he said.

Residency program director Dr. Allison Flaim said the pandemic has highlighted the strength of the residents, faculty and hospital.

Flaim started in her role in February, just before the pandemic began picking up steam, and said the outbreak gave the medical residents a chance to get experience at the hospital planning level. It also “allowed them an opportunity to shine and step up as community leaders.”

Yamashita said residents were encouraged by the willingness of their peers to stay up to date on the most current information, help with planning and to be on call during the pandemic.

COVID-19 also taught lessons in the importance of team work and professional collaboration in dealing with something on the level of a pandemic, he said.

“The hospital really put a lot of demands on our primary care physicians as we developed the response to a potentially very tragic situation,” Walker said.

Yamashita, however, said the cohort has had experience dealing with crisis on the Big Island because they also worked through the 2018 eruption of Kilauea volcano.

“The opportunity for training on this island is incredibly unique, and we’re the only residents that treated volcano refugees,” he said. “This isn’t our first time with a crisis on this island.”

Also graduating from the residency program were Dr. Kallan Ross, who will work for East Hawaii’s rural health clinics, and Dr. Mililani Trask-Batti, who will join East Hawaii’s private practice physicians.

The three-year residency program began in 2014, with its first cohort graduating in 2017. Ten doctors have graduated from the program, nine of whom stayed in Hawaii.

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Incoming family medicine residents set to join the program are Dr. Andrew Chang, Dr. James Finney, Dr. Laura Hernandez, Dr. Shelley Kirkham and Dr. Adrianne Prado.

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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