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AAMC 2021 Career Night features tempting specialties

Date: February 19th, 2021 in Faculty, Family Medicine, Geriatrics, JABSOM News, MD Residents, Student Life    Print or PDF

AAMC 2021 Virtual Career Night offered tempting specialties

By Paula Bender, JABSOM News

A virtual Career Night isn’t the same as face-to-face encounters between practitioners and medical students, but it makes it easy to share personal and professional experiences. 

The John A. Burns School of Medicine’s (JABSOM) second virtual Career Night. Dr. Wendell Foo (JABSOM MD 1976), his wife Susan and his family have sponsored the event for 24 years. In fact, Foo’s son, Dr. Bryan Wahl (JABSOM MD 1999), took the opportunity to add another $100,000 to his endowed scholarship for Hawaiʻi resident first year medical students with financial needs. He established the endowed scholarship to express his gratitude for the education he earned at JABSOM. Wahl practices in California and says he has been having several busy shifts due to COVID-19. 

Susan & Dr. Wendell Foo 2019

Susan and Dr. Wendell Foo at the 2019 Career Night when masks were not required. Deborah Manog Dimaya photo.

Foo is an anesthesiologist who at first wanted to go into neonatal intensive care, was given opportunities that took him on a different path. He perceived Career Night to focus more on the technical aspects of the specialties in the past, but things have taken a turn toward personal lives and self care. Foo added that Career Night is usually a fun, casual event, as doctors are asked about their careers. “Now they ask about hours, salaries, and family life,” Foo said.

In his greeting to the students during the live Zoom meeting, Dean Jerris Hedges said, “Obviously, a lot of folks from the community who practice these specialties volunteer their time, and have a wealth of information. It also provides contacts for the students, who will learn who’s who in their disciplines to get more information. Each discipline has variations, too.”

Dean Hedges Feb 2021 Career Night

From a remote location, Dean Jerris Hedges spoke over Zoom to the participants at the AAMC Career Night 2021.

Hedges told the students that not only can they become doctors, but they can also choose to be in a clinic or research setting, enter into public health, science and research, healthcare administration, developing healthcare products, and working with health systems and practice groups. 

shirley cheng logo

Student Chairman of Career Night February 2021 Shirley Cheng (MD Candidate 2024)

Student Chairperson Shirley Cheng, MD 2024 candidate, helped organize the event that featured 25 doctors of 16 specialties, each passionate about their respective practices. The groups, usually of two specialties, were given 10 minutes to talk about their practices, with five minutes for Q&A. If the chat got quiet during the three-hour virtual meeting, Cheng always had a question ready to go.

Many specialties were covered at Career Night, such as surgical specialties, physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology, pathology, radiology, urology, and ear, nose, and throat practices. Each specialist covered what they do, how and why they got into their field, and the satisfaction of being a doctor. 

Dr. Percival Chee, a long-time practitioner of ophthalmology, told the students that it was a “happy field”, and “one of the best fields if you get into it.” His colleague Dr. Gregg Kokame, does microscopic surgery in ophthalmology and waxes poetic about eye surgery: “There are such beautiful structures within the eye. Surgery has advanced so much that we can do it at a microscopic level. And, you can help people get their vision back!” 

For the highly competitive field of dermatology, Dr. Greg Sakamoto (JABSOM MD 2005) and Dr. Kory Kitagawa (JABSOM 2006) stated there are no emergency calls, and you can set your own hours. Both doctors encouraged the students to keep trying if they are turned away from a program and to take a gap year to do research in the field. Conducting research projects experience increases their likelihood to get into the residencies and fellowships they want. 


Kamal Masaki, MD, told the medical students that geriatrics is federally designated as a shortage health field that desperately needs more doctors.

Dr. Kamal Masaki (JABSOM alumna), professor and chair of Geriatrics Medicine at JABSOM, told the students that she wasn’t predisposed to geriatrics as a field, but “she always liked older people”. Masaki says geriatricians are there through it all: Alzheimer’s, dementia, hospice, and so forth. The goal is to assist a patient the best you can toward a dignified death, and their families toward their own peace.

“If you want to go into geriatrics, you have to like old people. We cannot teach that. It has to be in your heart,” Masaki said. “I really enjoy it. I still have relationships with families after they lose loved ones.”

Geriatrics is a federally designated shortage specialty, with a variety of niche subspecialties. A key aspect of JABSOM geriatrics: Masaki leads the only geriatric medicine fellowship program in the state of Hawai’i, and the fourth such program in the United States. She is one of the first graduates of the UH Fellowship Program in Geriatric Medicine.

“As a geriatrician, you can do whatever you want to do,” Masaki said. “Some medical schools have no geriatrician instructors. As for research, the brain is the new frontier and the National Institutes for Health has a high demand for Alzheimer’s research.”

Oncologists are practitioners who align with patients and families through transitions as well.  Dr. Jami Fukui and Dr. Ian Okazaki (JABSOM MD 1985) are with Hawai’i Pacific Health, and Dr. Ryon Nakasone (JABSOM MD 2006) is the Assistant Chief of the Department of Oncology at Queen’s Medical Center, and an Associate Professor of Medicine at JABSOM. Fukui came to Hawaii for an oncology fellowship four years ago. She said her career thus far has been a nice marriage of research, practice, and clinical trials. 

Both Okazaki and Nakasone also specialize in hematology. Okazaki, a JABSOM alumnus, shared some valuable information with the students regarding fellowships.

“There are many fellowships and research opportunities,” He said. “Some fellowships incorporate a Master’s degree, so you can become adept at designing and executing clinical trials. As for me, I enjoy the molecular side of things.” 

Nakasone teaches at JABSOM, and he told the students in the Zoom that there are many job opportunities, especially on the Neighbor Islands. 

“On the clinical side, you are with the patient from the beginning of the diagnosis until the end, either recovery or end of life,” Nakasone said, “Aside from end of life issues, there are hospice issues, new drugs, new therapies, and new guidelines. I don’t want patients to be afraid of coming to see me. Patients are not just a diagnosis – they’re people. You have to think of how you can help them in many aspects of their lives, both physically and emotionally.”

As Career Night is a special evening to the Foo family, it has gained traction with JABSOM’s medical students and provides priceless insight. The practitioners are enthusiastic and enjoy talking about their practices. The virtual setting works well, and Cheng kept everyone to the schedule, which was from 5:30-8:30pm. 

Students either came away from Career Night convinced of the specialty they want to go into, or wishing they could do them all.


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