State loan repayment program helps provide MDs and nurses on five islands

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Tina Shelton, (808) 692-0897
Director of Communications, Office of Dean of Medicine
Kelley Withy, MD, (808) 692-1062
Director, Hawaii Area Health Education Center
Posted: Dec 13, 2013

Lisa Garrett-Guadnola and Jennifer Morita, family nurse practitioners.
Lisa Garrett-Guadnola and Jennifer Morita, family nurse practitioners.

Eleven health-care providers -- doctors and advanced practice nurses -- have been selected to receive up to $40,000 to repay their student loans in exchange for working in a Health Profession Shortage Area in Hawai`i for two years. They include family nurse practitioners on Lāna`i, Moloka’i, West Hawai`i Island and Wai`anae, an obstetrician on Maui, pediatricians in Kalihi and Wai`anae, and a psychiatrist at Halawa prison.

“These are people who are making a difference in communities where they are needed the most,” said Dr. Kelley Withy, the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) professor who leads the Hawai`i State Loan Repayment Program. “Among the critical services these 11 will provide are helping sex and child abuse assault victims on Moloka`i, acting as the first layer of disease detection in family clinics, and working with homeless and migrant workers on O`ahu and in West Hawai`i,” Withy said.

The loan repayment program was launched last year to address a severe shortage of physicians and other health workers in the state. The Hawai`i Legislature authorized the UH Mānoa schools of medicine and nursing to establish the loan repayment program. Funding so far has come from Affordable Care Act money and donations from HMSA, The Queen’s Medical Center and Aloha Care. In 2012, five health-care workers received loan repayment awards. The 11 awards in 2013 total $394,474.

“I attend the deliveries of many babies that I eventually care for in my clinic,” said Dr. Jasmine Waipa, a loan repayment recipient and pediatrician at the Wai`anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. Waipa is a graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Harvard University and Stanford School of Medicine. “My interests are in health disparities, adolescent medicine, obesity and preventable chronic disease in children,” said Waipa.

Aileen Duran, a graduate of Farrington High and the UH Mānoa Family Nurse Practitioner Program, noticed a real need for bilingual providers when she was training on Lāna`i. A speaker of Tagalog and Ilokano, Duran accepted a full-time position as a family nurse practitioner at the Lānai Community Health Center in July.

Loan repayment award recipient Erik Anderson is a native of Kailua, O`ahu. He graduated from `Iolani School and the University of California-Santa Cruz, and earned his master’s degree at the UH Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene to become an adult and geriatric nurse practitioner.  “During my education at UH, I had the pleasure of doing a clinical rotation at Kalihi-Palama Health Center,” said Anderson. “I enjoyed working with the patients from Kalihi, including the new Micronesian immigrants.” Anderson has joined the adult medicine team at Kalihi-Palama.

Denise Houghtaling, hired this year as a family nurse practitioner at the Moloka`i Community Health Center, is also a loan repayment award recipient. She grew up in Washington State, but has lived in Hawai`i for seven years. She is currently in a doctorate program through Johns Hopkins and is doing a Capstone Project that focuses on providing services to victims of sex and child abuse on Moloka`i.

Dr. Christopher Lawlis, who joined the state as a psychiatrist at Halawa Correctional Facility this year, is a new father who wants to raise his children in Hawai`i. His loan repayment award helps make that possible. "I am very interested in homeless and chemical dependence issues," said Dr. Lawlis, "and I believe the incarcerated can be helped to get back on track.”

Jennifer Morita, from Pālolo on O`ahu, graduated from Kaimukī High and attended the UH Mānoa School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene. “I grew up in a single parent household,” said Morita. During her training at the Institute for Human Services, Kōkua Kalihi Valley and on the Waikīkī Care A Van, she honed skills and a passion to help the underserved, particularly Native Hawaiians, Micronesians and women currently in domestic violence settings. She is a family nurse practitioner at the Wai`anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and a loan repayment recipient.

Dr. Alicia Turlington, a pediatrician at Kōkua Kalihi Valley Health Center, grew up on Kaua`i. She completed her medical training at the UH-JABSOM Pediatrics Residency Program. While still a pediatrician-in-training, she was assigned to a clinic at Kōkua Kalihi Valley. “I started there in 2008 as a trainee and have been there ever since,” said Dr. Turlington, who now helps train current UH pediatric residents in addition to treating children at the health center.

Loan repayment award recipient Hokulani Porter, who is part-Hawaiian, grew up seeing many of the health issues that Native Hawaiians experience in her own family. “That motivated me to enter nursing,” said Porter. The holder of a master’s degree, she is a family nurse practitioner at the Wai`anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. “I believe we play an active role serving as the first layer of detection of health deterioration,” Porter said. “The patient visit can be a catalyst to engage patients, educating and empowering them to make lifestyle interventions to promote health and prevent disease."

Dr. Duffy Casey, an obstetrician at Community Clinic of Maui, had lots of international experience when he moved to Hawai`i four years ago. Clinical rotations on the neighbor islands exposed him to the small-town life on Maui, which he loves. He is a 2013 loan repayment recipient.

Loan repayment award recipient Anjalie Graham is a family nurse practitioner at West Hawai`i Community Health Center. “We conduct homeless clinics weekly and I enjoy providing that kind of care,” Graham said. “I hope to take part in a new migrant worker health program starting at West Hawai`i."

Lisa Garrett-Guadnola comes to the Wai`anae Coast Comprehensive Health enter by way of Detroit, where her parents worked in an automobile assembly line. During a master’s program in nursing, she worked with Catholic Charities of Hawai`i in Ma`ili. “It was my first introduction to the Wai`anae Coast, and I felt right at home,” she said.

“Students burdened by heavy educational debt may be less likely to choose primary care, because it doesn’t pay as well as sub-specialties, adding to the health-care worker shortage," said Dr. Withy. “The student loan repayment program can help even the playing field.”

JABSOM’s Dr. Withy hopes that, with state support, the loan repayment program can continue to grow to 50 recipients annually.

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