The latest stats from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education show 93% of students from the 2022 graduating class at the John A. Burns School of Medicine received a scholarship, compared to 64% at all other medical schools.
The abundance of scholarships allows JABSOM students to graduate medical school with less debt and positions them to be able to stay and practice in Hawaiʻi after completing their residency.
This achievement is made possible by the generosity of donors, and each year, through the University of Hawaiʻi Foundation, JABSOM reserves a special night where students have the opportunity to meet their donors face-to-face.
Last Thursday, nearly 100 students and donors gathered at JABSOM’s cafe for the school’s annual scholarship dinner. It was a night of inspiration and gratitude because, for many, the path to becoming a doctor would not be paved without scholarships.
Joanna Reinhardt is a fourth-year medical student at JABSOM. She’s a single parent raising three children, and before coming to JABSOM, she had financial concerns.
“Figuring out how to finance this while supporting my family was really challenging,” Reinhardt said. “Scholarships allowed me not to have to work while in school.”
One of the scholarships funding Reinhardt’s JABSOM education is the Florence J. Chinn Memorial Scholarship.
Chinn was a female pioneer in medicine. She attended the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, one of only two nationwide medical schools dedicated to training female physicians. She moved to Hawaiʻi in 1959 and became one of the first Chinese female board-certified internists in the state. Dr. Chinn accomplished all of this while raising five children on her own. Decades later, Chinn’s story still resonates today and is reflected in future doctors like Reinhardt.
“It’s amazing. I am very honored to be one of the first recipients of this scholarship. I feel like Dr. Chinn’s story was amazing, especially since she was able to make that leap generations ago. It warmed my heart to know that it was possible and that she was someone who was able to do that. It was very meaningful for me to be able to follow in her footsteps and have financial support,” Reinhardt said.
At the scholarship dinner, Reinhardt put a face to the name of her scholarship by meeting Dr. Chinn’s son, William Loui, MD. She presented him with a lei and explained how his mother’s scholarship would pay dividends for our state in years to come.
“It makes a huge difference. I don’t have nearly the debt I would have if I didn’t have these scholarships, which then allows me to not be so dependent on signing up for loan repayment programs which would require me to move to the continent,” she said. “Knowing I have the flexibility to stay in Hawaiʻi and practice at a community health clinic like those you’d see in Hauʻula, I know JABSOM graduates will benefit our community.”
Dr. Loui, a 1989 JABSOM alum, said his mother’s scholarship fund was initially going to her alma mater, but the family felt it would have a more significant impact in Hawaiʻi.
“It’s really something that was drilled into us by our mother. In fact, she made us promise that we would do this. We can’t take everything in life. We have to give back to the community,” he said, reflecting on the decision to give to JABSOM. “She had made her life here since 1959, and we felt we could touch more lives in Hawaiʻi. There is a real shortage of primary care doctors here, and we recognize how expensive it is to go through that. Another part of the scholarship is recognizing single parents or children who have grown up with single parents. It’s something she would be very proud of.”
Another inspirational moment came midway through the scholarship dinner as first-year medical student Anita Cheung was recognized.
At the tender age of 8, Cheung would get very familiar with the social determinants of health, even if she didn’t know it at the time. Her parents immigrated from Hong Kong and spoke little English, so Cheung was tasked with translating somber medical diagnoses like her father’s diabetes, hypertension, and hyperthyroidism. Forced to grow up at such a young age, Cheung didn’t have a childhood like her peers.
“As a kid, I don’t think I knew how to process those emotions,” she said. She knew that a child should not have to be put in these situations, which eventually sparked her desire to become a doctor. Cheung remembers wondering, “how can I make that change in the future so that others don’t have to go through what I did.”
While Cheung knew her goal, she said the path wasn’t clear.
“Growing up, I didn’t have anyone to look up to that was like me, who wanted to go to medical school, and I didn’t know what that would look like because nobody in my family went to medical school,” she said.
After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Miami and her grad school at George Washington University, Cheung returned to Hawaiʻi and entered JABSOM’s ʻImi Hoʻōla Post-Baccalaureate program. It’s a small cohort who are put on a rigorous, year-long path that allows them to become JABSOM students.
Cheung completed the program and is now thriving at JABSOM. Thanks to the Queen’s Health System, she has a four-year, full-tuition scholarship which ensures zero debt upon graduation.
“Thanks to the Queens ʻImi scholarship, debt is something that I don’t have to worry about. Going to medical school is a huge financial decision. For someone coming from a first-generation immigrant family, tuition itself is about how much my parents would make,” she said.
With her financial burdens lifted, Cheung can focus on what matters.
“Being able to give back to the community itself. That has always been what makes med school fun for me,” she said. “It’s been a very eye-opening journey. Even though it wasn’t straight, with everything I experienced, I think that will make me a better physician.”
When Cheung becomes a doctor, she’ll bring a different type of compassion to her care. One that comes engrained. One that only comes from a lifetime of experiences.
“It’s the community that raised me, and it’s the community I grew up with. As a child of a first-generation immigrant, I see a lot of the obstacles they go through, and I want to be able to make a difference in that community specifically. It’s just that Hawaiʻi is home, and the people here are the people I want to serve.”
Watch Anita’s story here, produced by the JABSOM Media & Communications (JMAC) team: