In 1981, Dr. Geri Young was newly married and recently graduated from the John A. Burns School of Medicine.
“My pediatric residency at Kapiolani ended on June 30th, and I started work on July 1st, 1981,” she remembers. “I just got married to my husband, Dr. Robert Teichman.”
Both 1978 JABSOM graduates, she and Teichman decided to start their married and professional lives on Kaua’i. Young says it was a move prompted by her husband.
“He got a job a year before we got married as an ER doctor at Wilcox Hospital,” she says. “The first thing he did was buy a fishing boat. I just thought it would be a couple of years. I thought I would keep my husband happy for a couple of years, and then we’ll move back to Oahu, but that never happened.”
When Dr. Young first moved, she says she was the lone woman in a staff of 25 physicians at the Kaua’i Medical Group.
Forty-one years later, Dr. Young remains on Kaua’i at the Wilcox Medical Center in Lihue.
While Dr. Young did not initially expect to serve the people of Kaua’i for more than four decades, the journey to the Garden Isle was not unexpected.
Neighbor island and rural training have long been part of JABSOM’s mission. During an externship on Maui, they were drawn to the idea of settling on a neighbor island.
“When we were third and fourth-year students, my husband and I had the opportunity to go. We really went there to go scuba diving, but it occurred to us in that brief time that we could probably live on a neighbor island,” Young says.
She says those who love outdoor sports tend to turn a stint on the neighbor island into a permanent stay.
“Kaua’i has world-class fishing, surfing, and sailing. Many other physicians here are cyclists or love hiking. There’s some outdoor sport that they can’t live without,” she says.
Young was born and raised in Honolulu and grew up in Waipahu. She went to Pomona College in California before returning to Hawai’i to attend JABSOM. Young says between her experience on the continent and living in a large city like Honolulu, the opportunity to learn in a rural setting like Kaua’i is unique.
“The people here are so welcoming. The practice was incredible. I think I realized that over the years, it wasn’t a sudden decision,” Young says. “It just kind of grew on us. Because it’s so small, everybody kind of knows everybody else, and it becomes like family. I think that’s a big part of why people stay here.”
The opportunity for JABSOM students to learn on the Garden Isle has grown significantly this year. Dr. Priscilla Chan and her husband and co-founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, made a six-year, $10 million commitment to fund the new Kauaʻi Medical Training Track. The multi-pronged program will help Kaua’i address the physician shortage and improve access to healthcare services.
“If you are only in training in the city, you might not consider anywhere else,” Young says. “The advantage of the Kauaʻi Medical Training Track is that it will give these students a chance to really spend some time with the people, the medical and nursing staff. They’ll see the natural beauty of the island, and since they’re here for a lengthy period of time, they’ll be able to gauge if they could live here full time when they’re done with their training.”
Six students make up the Kauaʻi Medical Training Track’s first class, and Young says they’re already making a positive impact.
“It’s completely changed the atmosphere of the institution. Having medical students, as well as residents, is really important. The employed physicians at Hawaiʻi Pacific Health (HPH) Medical Group are really excited and happy to serve as volunteer clinical faculty,” Young says. “Half of our physicians have voiced interest and have signed up with the medical school to serve as a volunteer on clinical faculty. It’s gratifying, and I think it will change the atmosphere here for the better.”
As Young reflects on her time in Kauaʻi, she marvels at how much the medical services have grown.
“Through the years, I’ve seen way more female physicians employed, and way more subspecialty services being offered. I think a big part of that was because of the formation of Hawaii Pacific Health in 2001, where we merged with Kapiolani, Straub, and Pali Momi,” Young says. “It was huge for the medical group and the level of care at Wilcox. HPH has enabled us to bring a high level of care to this island.”
Young’s career has also thrived while on Kauaʻi. For over 12 years, she was the Chief Medical Officer at the Kauai Medical Clinic and is the current Kauai Medical Director for Hawaii Pacific Health Medical Group. Young held those roles while still giving back to JABSOM, serving as an Assistant Clinical Professor for the school’s Department of Pediatrics.
Sadly, Dr. Young lost her husband, Dr. Teichman, this year. Teichman was JABSOM’s first permanent gross anatomy instructor.
“I think my husband was a country boy at heart,” Young says. “He didn’t want to live in Honolulu, so that’s how I ended up on Kauaʻi.”
Spending her career on Kauaʻi was never Young’s intention, but she says the last 41 years in the lush, tropical landscape have been like a dream come true and hopes future doctors will follow in her footsteps.
“For any young person who is thinking of rural practice, really consider the neighbor islands because it’s different from practicing on Oahu or a city. You really do get to know the patients and their families and feel a huge part of the community.”