This is derived from an article written by Dr. Darrell Kirch, President & CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, for the August 2011 issue of the Hawaii Medical Journal.
Since returning from the beautiful campus of the John A. Burns School of Medicine at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I have had time to reflect on my first visit to the Aloha Stateʻs only medical school; what makes it unique.
For me, the most striking characteristic of JABSOM is its incredibly diverse student body. In fact, I learned that JABSOM is the most culturally and ethnically diverse medical school in the United States, if not the world! The student population truly reflects the composition of the people of Hawaii, the Pacific region, and beyond, an admirable feat that medical schools around the nation are working hard to achieve, and one that the AAMC supports through efforts such as our holistic admissions initiative.
The primary mission of JABSOM is to train physicians for practice in Hawaii and the Pacific, and the school is succeeding on this front. Ninety percent of JABSOM students are state residents, and approximately 50 percent of the practicing physicians in Hawaii have graduated from JABSOM or the Hawaii Residency Program. These facts demonstrate the school’s commitment to the people of Hawaii, a state with a higher than average prevalence of chronic diseases such as asthma and diabetes and a greater percentage of the population living in poverty than the U.S. average.
JABSOM’s commitment to the Hawaiian people is also reflected in the career choices of its students. Half of JABSOM graduates enter residencies in the primary care specialties of internal medicine, family medicine, and pediatrics, or related fields like obstetrics and gynecology. These specialties are integral to the creation of medical home, places where patients can receive comprehensive care coordinated by a physician with whom they have a longstanding relationship. True reform of the nation’s fragmented health care system cannot occur until we have the right numbers of primary care physicians in place, and JABSOM graduates will be well positioned to lead the change our health care system requires.
Even before I left Washington, D.C. I knew that this graduation exercise on May 15, 2011 would be different. Imagine my surprise and delight when I was told not to pack traditional graduation regalia, but an aloha shirt! (I couldn’t help but wonder whether the debate in Washington would be more civil if legislators took their sartorial cues from island culture.) As the ceremony got underway, I couldn’t take my eyes off the incredible amount of local color, from the delicate haku leis to the homemade Kihei garments. But what the absence of stiff formalwear lacked in familiarity, it overwhelmed me with comfort and a sense of ease.
As I settled into my seat and waited for the ceremony to begin, the first notes of the opening Oli chant, performed in the native Hawaiian language, signaled to me another beautiful expression of culture. The chant was every bit as much a call to ceremony as the traditional Pomp and Circumstance, but conveyed a unique sense of place. This element of the ceremony made it obvious to me why JABSOM excels at training professionals to care for the people of the Pacific. It recognizes that context, culture, and community mean so much.
Finally, I was touched by the ceremony’s Maile lei draping ritual. When I learned that the graduates received their Maile lei from a special person in their lives, I could only smile as those special people, loving sisters and brothers, proud mentors, and ecstatic grandparents, honored the graduates in this uniquely Hawaiian manner. In fact, there were tears of joy visible in more than one pair of eyes, especially for those for whom these graduates represented the first family member to complete college, let alone medical school.
For all of these reasons, the JABSOM graduation ceremony will stand out in my mind as unique and among the most culturally diverse medical school commencements in which I have taken part.
To read Dr. Kirschʻs article in full, download the August issue of the Hawaii Medical Journal, free, on line, at: http://www.hawaiimedicaljournal.org/