JABSOM Efforts to Make Medical Education More Affordable Pays Off

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Aiko Murakami graduated from the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) in 2022 with no debt.

“Looking at my friends who weren’t as fortunate, it was a big relief that I didn’t have to carry that burden,” she says.

According to the latest numbers from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME), Murakami’s story of achieving graduation with zero debt is becoming more common now than before on the JABSOM campus. 2022 stats show more than 40 percent of JABSOM graduates left school with zero debt, compared to 29 percent at all other medical schools.

Aiko Murakami (JABSOM 2022) celebrates graduating with no debt.
Aiko Murakami celebrates graduating.

This positive change results from the investments the JABSOM ohana has made in scholarships. Compared to other medical schools, JABSOM students are getting more of a financial head start as a whopping 93 percent of the graduating 2022 class reported receiving at least one scholarship. Only 64 percent of students across all medical schools can make that claim.

“I don’t think people expect that from a public school,” Murakami says.

Recognizing that educational debt can be a barrier to a student choosing a primary care discipline or practicing in a state with a higher cost of living/practice, JABSOM leaders and UH Foundation have been working to raise scholarship funds to reduce that financial barrier for its students.

JABSOM Student Debt InfographicPartners include community donors, philanthropists, and Hawaiʻi's health systems, including Queen’s Health, Hawaiʻi Pacific Health, Kaiser Permanente Hawaiʻi, and Adventist Health Castle.

Aiko in a zoom class
Aiko gives a glimpse into learning via Zoom.

Students can apply for dozens of scholarships in a wide variety of categories. JABSOM offers dedicated scholarships for MS1 and MS2 students, those with Native Hawaiian ancestry, and those who graduated from the School’s ʻImi Hoʻōla program, an important post-baccalaureate program for disadvantaged students. Some scholarships, like the recent Barry and Virginia Weinman Scholarship Matching Challenge, paid students’ full tuition for the entire four years of medical school. Murakami was one of its recipients, and she realizes life would be drastically different without it.

“I would have had to take out a loan. I wouldn’t have had enough to pay for school and life,” she says.

Murakami’s scholarship package totaled more than $100,000. Making a dramatic positive difference in the finances of its students was the goal of JABSOM’s Dean Jerris Hedges.

“Making education affordable is of paramount importance now more than ever. I committed to developing and enhancing our scholarship opportunities and am thrilled at how rapidly scholarship support has grown in just four years. The scholarships awarded to our students not only change their lives but also pave the way for Hawaiʻi to retain the talent we foster at JABSOM. Having more doctors from Hawaiʻi financially able to practice in Hawaiʻi, will in turn support the health and enrich the lives of Hawaiʻi residents,” Hedges says.

The success of that plan is reflected in the numbers. In 2018, no students reported receiving scholarships between $150,000 and $199,999. Today, 23.7 percent of graduating students in the 2022 class have received scholarships between those figures. More eye-opening is that 22 percent of JABSOM students reported having received no scholarships upon graduation in 2018. Less than 7 percent of students made that claim in 2022.

Aiko with her fellow med students
Aiko with fellow med students.

Most JABSOM scholarship recipients also see a significant impact on their personal finances.

$80,000 is the median scholarship amount for JABSOM students, while $30,000 is the median for their continental US counterparts.

While the overwhelming majority of JABSOM students receive financial aid through scholarships, debt remains commonplace in medical school. Still, the sting of debt is not as painful for JABSOM graduates. The 2022 LCME data show that 48 percent leave with less than $50,000 in medical school debt. Only 36 percent of students graduating from all other medical schools can say that.

Without assistance from scholarships, Murakami says her experience at JABSOM would have been more stressful.

“I probably would have had to think more about finances. We don’t need other things to worry about when trying to become a doctor,” she says.

Aiko in class.
Aiko chose to stay in Hawaiʻi.

The Weinman scholarship allowed Murakami to dedicate all her energy to education and refocus her desire to stay and practice in her home state, another trend that emerged from the LCME report.

Upon graduation, 29 percent of students at other schools plan to work in an underserved area, while nearly 46 percent of JABSOM graduates have plans to serve in these areas.

“I’ve always wanted to practice here. Going to JABSOM reinforced that. I never wanted to change that course. I wouldn’t be able to survive anywhere else.”

Adding: If you’re interested in learning how to contribute to scholarship success, please visit: