$1 MILLION DOLLAR GIFT, accreditation bolster only Hawai`i program training cardiologists

There is good news on several fronts for Hawai`i residents in the fight against heart disease, the state’s leading cause of death.

The developments include a generous monetary gift, an impressive accreditation and – soon – brand new, locally trained cardiologists to treat patients in Hawai`i .

Local philanthropist and businesswoman Judith Dion Pyle has pledged one million dollars to support the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program at the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).  Her gift will create the Judith Dion Pyle Endowed Fund for the Robert Hong, MD Professorship in the Cardiovascular Fellowship Program.

The Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship, a three-year program, is the only one in Hawai`i training physicians to become cardiologists.

“It gives me great joy to have the opportunity to support Dr. Robert Hong and the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program,” said Judith Pyle. She continued, “The Program offers Hawai`i’s medical students the opportunity for a career in cardiology and it offers Hawai`i’s people the comfort of knowing that there are highly qualified cardiologists to be available for them if there is a need.”

The Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program began in 2010 as a partnership between the University of Hawai`i’s medical school and The Queen’s Medical Center. Now, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has granted the successful program continued accreditation for five years, through 2017.

Among those being trained in the UH program is Dr. Kahealani Rivera, who next year will become the first ever female Native Hawaiian cardiologist. Heart disease and stroke cause nearly 3,000 deaths a year in the state of Hawai`i. (Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Program, 2011.) Native Hawaiians are among those hit the hardest.

“Native Hawaiians are two to three times more likely to be diagnosed with or die from heart disease,” said Dr. Rivera. “We have so much more work to do, and I hope, as a Native Hawaiian physician, I will be able to give care to both Native Hawaiians and all people who suffer so much from heart disease.”

Dr. Rivera being interviewed about being a role model. Next year, she will finish the Cardiovascular Fellowship Program and become the first Native Hawaiian woman cardiologist trained in Hawai`i.

Dr. Rivera, a graduate of Kamehameha, said there were many people who told her she wouldn’t last in medical training. “My father drives a milk truck and my mother was a book-keeper,” said Dr. Rivera, noting that she was the first in her family to pursue higher education. “I am so grateful to all of those who said I could do it, and now, when I am told I will be the first Native Hawaiian woman cardiologist, it gives me a great comfort because I know I can be a role model to others,” she said. Dr. Rivera, who grew up in Waipahu, said her mother, who is deceased, was the person who most inspired her to achieve. She also thanked Mrs. Pyle for investing in the future of others in Hawai`i who will have the opportunity to follow in her footsteps.

Mrs. Pyle said she hopes more women, in particular, will consider giving to support the University of Hawai`i.

The million-dollar gift establishes a professorship to support faculty research, teaching and clinical practice in cardiovascular disease, helping to raise the standard for cardiovascular care in Hawai`i. Once it is approved by the UH Board of Regents, the professorship will be named after Dr. Robert Hong, Chief of the Division of Cardiology at The Queen’s Medical Center and JABSOM Associate Professor.

The new endowed professorship will enhance JABSOM’s ability to attract and retain outstanding cardiovascular physician-scientists to serve as the senior faculty member of this training program.

“The healthcare community is facing challenges related to the physician shortage and limited advanced educational training and research opportunities,” said Dr. Hong. “Our program serves as a focal point for education and research at our medical school. Educational and research opportunities, and spinoffs from the program, have improved medical care and contributed to our economy by creating new jobs and careers for the people of Hawai`i,” Hong said.

Dr. Hong also said the gifts of people like Judy Pyle are desperately needed. Dr. Hong noted that the number of endowed faculty positions is relatively small at the University of Hawai`i.  “The impact an investment like this can have for our community is immeasurable.”

Dr. Hong recalled as a child that former Governor John Burns, whom the medical school is named after, would come to his home. “I know that nearly 50 years ago, when Jack Burns said we needed a medical school and a law school, my dad was among those who said, ‘that’s ridiculous, that the best and brightest in Hawai`i would always find a way to get to the U.S. mainland for schooling.’ But that is not so, said Hong, and it is not just the quality of the training, but the environment where the training takes place. I cannot imagine graduate education in Hawai`i without the medical school,” Dr. Hong said.

The need for cardiologists, in particular, is critical.  According to the Hawai`i Physician Workforce Assessment conducted by JABSOM, Hawai’i currently has only 60% of the cardiologists needed to care for Hawai’i residents. The shortage is certain to get worse. Half of the state’s practicing cardiologists will reach retirement age within the next eight years, leaving the field at a time when more of our state’s aging population will need cardiovascular care.

JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges, Wayne Pitluck, Dr. Robert Hong, Art Ushijima President & CEO Queen’s Health Systems; Dr. Anne Kemble (Fellow); Cathy Young, RN,MBS, VP Cardiac, Geriatrics, Medicine, QMC; Dr. Kahealani Rivera (3rd year fellow); Judy Pyle; Dr. John Michael Chua Chiaco (Fellow), at a ceremony at the medical school accepting Pyleʻs gift.

“The Queen’s Medical Center extends our warmest appreciation to Ms. Pyle for her support and generous investment in the University of Hawai`i  to create the Judith Dion Pyle Endowed Fund for the Robert Hong, MD Professorship in the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program,” said Arthur Ushijima, President of The Queen’s Medical Center.  “We would also like to congratulate Dr. Hong on this extraordinary achievement and wonderful honor.”

Private philanthropic support continues to play a major role in helping JABSOM attract accomplished academic clinicians. To this end, The Queen’s Medical Center is continuing its financial support of the program to ensure its growth and success.

Judith Dion Pyle is currently the President (Member and Manager) of Judith Dion Pyle & Associates, LLC, located in Middleton, Wisconsin, a family office serving as her financial service company managing Trusts, personal and business interests. Judith previously held the position of Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of The Pyle Group, LLC, a Madison, Wisconsin financial services company that oversees small and medium sized companies, which it has purchased or in which it has made investments.

Judith currently serves as a Board Member or a Trustee of several private and public companies and many foundations, arts and philanthropic organizations including the University of Hawai‘i  Foundation.

Our main photograph includes three of the cardiology fellows with Judith Pyle. From left to right, they are Anne Kemble, MD, (1st year Fellow), Kahealani Rivera, MD,  (3rd year Fellow) Judith Pyle, and John Michael Chua Chiaco, MD, (2nd year Fellow).


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