UH Med Now
The Dean’s Decade
Pictured: Governor John A. Burns and Dean Jerris Hedges. Graphic by Deborah Manog Dimaya.
Understanding the hardships and the hurdles our MD students overcome and the sheer determination, persistence and excellence they demonstrate, Hawaii has every reason to be proud of its sons and daughters, and the school that gives them the opportunity to train and serve their community as physicians.
At the medical school named after John A. Burns, Dean Jerris Hedges leads by listening far more than he speaks. During his decade at the school’s helm, his closest advisors have included the late James S. Burns, the Governor’s son, and a small army of others whose voices are essential to the unique UH medical school coalition — the community hospitals where our students and MD residents and fellows train side-by-side with faculty physicians, our governmental leaders who lend support to our mission and the public whose health needs we seek to meet, whose children we seek to train for a sustainable future, and the university which guides us.
In ten years, the Dean has expanded the entering MD Class size by ten students without approvals for additional faculty or classrooms. He has overseen a phenomenal growth in philanthropy —including giving from within the school — including the three-part gift that gave nearly 1/3 of the most recent class a tuition free four years. He wants to repeat and expand that feat, dreaming of free medical school in a state where physicians are so desperately needed. Under his leadership JABSOM academics, performance in primary care training and research has received impressive marks in national rankings from U.S. News & World Report, and in comparisons with our peer institutions. He has successfully lead JABSOM through two primary medical school accreditations, helped build a strong faculty practice plan, and expanded graduate MD education to neighbor islands.
TS: Over the years JABSOM has sometimes encountered those who still question whether Hawai’i can afford a medical school, much less expand it, as you feel is necessary. What is your response?
Dean Hedges: “Forty-three years ago Governor John A. Burns said most Hawai’i kids wouldn’t get the opportunity to go to medical school without a medical school at the University of Hawai’i. In 2018, everything we know about our students continues to show he was right. In 2018, data clearly shows that while JABSOM students do well in their medical school progression, national board scores and their residency placement (their ability to match into advanced training programs), compared with other US medical school students, they get fewer invitations to interview at medical schools, they come from families of lesser incomes, and they have to wait longer after college to get into medical school – usually because they are waiting to get into JABSOM, where class size is limited.”
KC: How can you continue to grow the medical school to help the University meet the state’s pressing health workforce needs?
Dean Hedges: “We have worked to build partnerships among the health sciences schools at the University of Hawai’i. Ideally, UH would formalize a JABSOM-led health sciences leadership structure that builds synergy across the health sciences and brings additional extramural resources into UH. Such a structure at UH System could help UH achieve its U-Healthy Hawaiʻi goals as summarized by Dr. Aimee Grace, a 2008 JABSOM MD alumna who is now Director of Health Science Policy for UH System. Those goals are to ensure a robust healthcare workforce for Hawaiʻi, to discover and innovate to improve and extend lives, to promote healthier families and communities, and to advance health in all policies. The successful implementation of a trans-professional and inter-disciplinary multi-mission approach to the health sciences in Hawaiʻi will depend upon active engagement and leadership from JABSOM.”
KC: What will it take to achieve that?
Dean Hedges: “Given growing internal health sciences collaboration and external clinical partnerships through the practice plan, there remains a need for UH to develop a complementary cross-unit and cross-campus structural format overseen by the JABSOM Dean which can both guide internal and external collaborations and encourage the implementation of a larger multi-mission health sciences vision for the coming decade. JABSOM is the natural leader for that effort in that JABSOM has been fortunate to have built relationships with a number of community organizations and leaders, external relationships that have permitted a larger vision and some success beyond the confines of UH. One strength of the medical school is its affiliated practice plan (shared with nursing, pharmacy, and the cancer center). The University Health Partners has helped support faculty members and academic programs through the delivery of clinical service. As the health care environment evolves, this practice plan will need to seek greater alignment and integration with local health systems.”
KC: That should keep you busy for the foreseeable future. Taking a step back, do you have any advice for future deans?
Dean Hedges: “JABSOM is in a unique place (center of the Pacific and rich with cultures) at a unique time in the world. The multicultural and multiethnic environment affords an opportunity to experience an international experience with a (relatively) small town level of inter-connectivity. If one thinks as those living on the east coast (fast paced and inwardly focused), you will not succeed in Hawaiʻi. The dean must play many roles and be a connector. The dean must be truly humble and self-aware. Yet the dean must be content competent in multiple areas (medical knowledge, research grantsmanship and oversight, academic regulations, practice plan operations and leadership, organizational dynamics and leadership, philanthropy skills, etc). The medical school dean must build upon skills previously used to lead her/his academic unit to now lead leaders of multiple academic units. The dean must be community focused and look far beyond her/his own academic unit to be successful. Of course, one must embrace the culture of Hawaiʻi and continue to learn. The role of the medical school dean is not growing simpler. As exemplified, deans of medical schools today must have a variety of skills that include financial management, people management, negotiation, conflict resolution, as well as strong leadership abilities. In interviews conducted with medical school deans, the key characteristics and personal qualities identified that make a medical school dean successful include ‘fairness, integrity, listening skills, personal warmth, respect for people, lack of arrogance, and the ability to get the best out of people.’ As a result of the high demands and complex nature of the job, the average dean tenure is typically around four years.”
Student questionnaires conducted at medical schools nationwide on behalf of the Associate of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in 2018 show the hardships, the hurdles to overcome, and the sheer determination and persistence required of and demonstrated by our JABSOM students. Hawai’i has every reason to be proud of these sons and daughters, and of the school that allows them the opportunity to serve their community as a physician. What are these difficulties our students overcome?
Delays: Fewer than one in four (18%) JABSOM students gets to go straight from college into medical school, versus 37% of all medical school students.