Medical center begins search for residency candidates


After years in development, Hilo Medical Center’s Family Medicine Residency Program is set to begin interviewing next week its first crop of applicants.

The program earned on Oct. 22 a two-year accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, allowing it to gear up for a July 1 launch with its first class of four residents. So far, administrators have received a total of 49 applications from across the country and around the Pacific Basin, said Residency Director Dr. Kristine McCoy.

“We’re right in the middle of interview season, so we’re jumping into it midstream,” she said.

Each year, beginning in September, residency candidates begin applying for various programs around the country. They go through a series of interviews, and then prioritize their choices among the programs. Those choices are then matched during the month of March with prioritized choices submitted by residency program administrators using software that is similar to that used by online dating sites, she said.

“So far, we’ve invited nine or 10 people to interview,” McCoy said. “For the folks who don’t live here, we’ll have an initial interview via Skype to get a better sense of these people. Those who meet our criteria we will then meet for an in-person interview.”

Each of the four faculty members associated with the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. Primary Care Training Program will help in the selection process, she said. In the future, when there are residency participants going through the program, they will also help to select candidates.

“We want them to put down roots here, so we want to make sure that this is a place that feels comfortable to them, McCoy said.

While academic achievement is always a concern, she added, making sure the candidate is a fit for the environment is ultimately the most important criteria for selection.

“Most of them have the brains for academic success,” she said. “We’re looking to make sure they are truly committed to family medicine.”

The program has received an application from a single Big Island candidate and an Oahu candidate — possibly the program’s only “shoe-ins” so far, she said.

“You have three categories of candidates,” she said. “There are those who don’t have any reason to come here, they’re just looking for any residency. Then there are those from here — so far we have one from Hilo and one from Oahu — who think of it as home already. … Then you have a middle group of people from elsewhere have have an interest in a combination of rural medicine and life in the Pacific … that would culturally fit in pretty well here.”

The selected candidates will spend three years in the program, graduating in 2017.

From its earliest conception nearly 20 years ago, the residency program has been viewed as an important tool in the fight to attract and keep quality health care providers on the island. Young doctors just beginning their careers are more likely to stay and practice in the areas where they performed their residencies — up to 80 percent of them do so, according to research.

That’s an important statistic for Hawaii Island, which faces an ever-dwindling population of physicians and other health care providers.

“This is the right thing to do,” said Hilo Medical Center CEO Howard Ainsley, “particularly for these needy neighbor islands in terms of physicians and other caregivers.”

Ainsley added, however, that while the accreditation of the program and its pending launch in July are exciting news that deserves to be celebrated, the program will continue to struggle to find funding unless organizers are successful in obtaining support from the state Legislature.

“In short, this is a major hurdle, and it’s taken the work of many people to get this done,” he said. “But, we’re still needing to press on with getting the community to rally around and support this going forward, because ideally we need to have the state have an annual commitment to this in the budget.”

During the 2013 legislative session, widespread support prompted legislators to appropriate $1.8 million for the program. It has also benefited from charitable contributions from the Hilo Medical Center Foundation and the community, including money raised by the Rotary Club of South Hilo’s Hilo Huli and Rotary Club of Hilo’s Brewfest. In August, UnitedHealthcare presented a $250,000 check in support of the program.

Funds raised are managed by the HMC Foundation. For more information on contributing, contact Lori Rogers at 935-2957, lrogers@hhsc.org, or visit www.hilomedicalcenterfoundation.org.

For more information about the residency program, visit www.hifmr.org.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.