Elected officials, health-care leaders and the University of Hawaiʻi had an occasion to celebrate recently in Hilo. As “ground zero” in the state’s worsening physician shortage, there is a critical need for primary-care physicians on the rural Big Island. The most recent Hawai’i Physician Workforce Assessment calculated that Hawai’i Island has 20% fewer doctors than it needs to serve its current population.
On May 12, the UH medical school’s Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health announced the deployment of a new faculty physician to serve patients in Hilo.
The new doctor is also an assistant clinical professor, who will help to train other physicians beginning next year. That is when the John A. Burns School of Medicine OB-GYN residency program will begin regular clinical rotations of MDs in their third-year of training on Hawai’i Island.
In collaboration with the Hilo Bay Clinic and Hilo Medical Center, the future doctors will have the opportunity to see what rural medicine can be like as they actually care for patients (under faculty supervision) in an underserved community. The hope is that the MDs will consider opening their own practices in East Hawai’i when their training is completed.
“To people from outside of Hawaiʻi Island, I can never express what this means to us,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Harry Kim. “This is almost like a culmination of years and years of trying to get more medical resources here. And I can’t say enough how much of a breakthrough this is … for Hawaiʻi people. I think you can sense it, we are all excited about today.”
Dr. Kareem Khozaim becomes the first OB-GYN doctor in Hilo employed by University Health Partners, or UHP, the JABSOM faculty practice plan. As an OB-GYN generalist, Dr. Khozaim focuses on taking care of women from adolescence to their elderly lives. THe JABSOM assistant clinical professor will serve patients in East Hawai’i and also help to teach the next generation of physicians.
Dr. Khozaim is an alumnus of the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. He completed his residency at Indiana University in July 2014. As an individual who was raised in a family of strong female physicians, he recognizes the struggles that women face, both on a socioeconomic and personal level.
“On a global level, women have gotten the short end of the stick in almost every way,” Dr. Khozaim said. “A woman’s medical health is intimately intertwined with her socioeconomic status, and as an OB-GYN I hope to significantly affect both. A strategy as simple as helping a woman manage her fertility can have profound effects on an entire family’s socioeconomic status.”
This perspective in improving global health led to his work in Kenya during his medical school and residency training. During that time, he focused on providing cervical cancer screening for women with HIV. After his residency, he was employed at the Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) Tropical Medical Center in Pago Pago, American Samoa.
“I loved it there [in American Samoa],” Dr. Khozaim said. “From a physician perspective, I was able to see and do many things that probably I probably wouldn’t see or do in the U.S. mainland too much.”
Aside from being exposed to uncommon conditions and procedures, one of his main projects at the LBJ Tropical Medical Center was establishing and developing minimally invasive gynecologic surgery services.
The Hilo Bay Clinic provides services to underserved communities on the Big Island, which is what drew Dr. Khozaim to work for JABSOM and UHP. He hopes to inspire newly trained physicians to provide services on Hilo or in other areas in need of medical services. The agreement with both the medical school and the faculty practice will hopefully allow him to continue his work in American Samoa once a year to maintain his relationship with the LBJ Tropical Medical Center and the community at large.
“I am very excited about UH and UHP partnering with Hilo Bay Clinic,” he said. “A UH presence in the Big Island seems long overdue and I think everyone is optimistic about the positive impact UH can have on Hilo, and the Big Island in general. This community definitely deserves our attention.”
Khozaim is not alone in his optimism. State Senator Lorraine Inouye of Hilo (also a former Mayor of Hawaiʻi County) was thrilled at the medical school’s deployment of an OB-GYN physician.
“OB-GYN is so much needed for the region,” said Senator Inouye. “Most of us have been going to O’ahu … to get the care we need for women’s health issues. I’m so pleased that we are at the brink of another chapter of better health care for East Hawai’i.”