Jerris R. Hedges became dean of the John A. Burns School of Medicine 15 years ago, inheriting a school facing immediate challenges.
During the next decade and a half, under Dean Hedges’ leadership, JABSOM would grow class sizes, offer robust scholarships, and expand its reach beyond Oʻahu, while uniting the school with the rest of the state and the UH System.
On March 1, 2023, Dean Hedges retires and leaves JABSOM woven into the fabric of health care in Hawaiʻi more than ever before.
Dean Hedges came to JABSOM from the Oregon Health and Science University, where he served as Department Chair, Hospital Medical Staff Chair, and Vice Dean and arrived at a tenuous time. JABSOM needed to get fully accredited, and Dean Hedges had less than a year to get it done. Without the Liaison Committee on Medical Education’s accreditation, students wouldn’t be allowed to take national board exams or apply for residencies.
“We had to be organized. We had to show how our programs were meeting the needs of Hawaiʻi, and we had to show how we were meeting the educational standards for the rest of the nation,” Hedges said.
Nine months after Dean Hedges arrived, JABSOM successfully defended its primary accreditation and received a maximum of 8 years of re-accreditation. The administrative and educational team continued to function at a high level and received a second 8 years of re-accreditation in 2017.
Always humble, Hedges acknowledged that JABSOM’s success was made possible by a dedicated team he assembled from within the JABSOM ranks and afar.
“One of the most satisfying features of working at JABSOM was spending time making many things happen across Hawaiʻi with some of the most talented and creative people with whom I have served,” Hedges said.
Under the dean’s leadership, JABSOM was able to better share its many contributions to the public’s health, the many ongoing efforts to address the physician shortage across Hawaiʻi, its vital role in the provision of graduate medical education following medical school, and its growing contributions to research innovations and the Hawaiʻi state economy.
This growing awareness among those outside of the medical school demonstrated that JABSOM was truly making good on the promises of past deans and university leaders through hard work, efficient operations, and strong science. The medical school quickly established itself as a national leader in National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant acquisition for public, community-based medical schools.
“For a state-supported school with no university hospital, we are probably the number one in generating research dollars and innovative research in the country,” Hedges said.
In the last 15 years, JABSOM’s reputation has grown, especially in primary care education and its connection with the community.
JABSOM earned top quartile rankings in the US News & World Report Survey, despite its faculty and student size putting JABSOM in the lower quartile of all US medical schools. Although students from Hawaiʻi had always excelled, student quality became more visible nationally, thus allowing students access to the best residency/fellowship training programs in the country. Dean Hedges also found ways to grow class sizes. Before Hedges’ arrival, the class size was 62 for more than a decade. Today, 77 students enter each year.
A critical factor in the JABSOM success story under Dean Hedges has been philanthropic efforts led by hard-working development officers. JABSOM has seen the creation of a successful internal giving campaign that engages faculty, staff, and leadership to invest in the school. Dean Hedges also put a renewed focus on scholarship programs, and the payoff is evident as JABSOM is in the top echelon of US medical schools for the proportion of students graduating without educational debt, despite JABSOM students having one of the lowest family median income levels nationally. During the dean’s tenure, JABSOM’s foundation market value grew from $23M in 2008 to $72.6M in 2022.
The physician shortage in Hawaiʻi was a priority when Dean Hedges arrived in 2008. In 2023, JABSOM continues to play a role in the multi-pronged approach in contributing to finding the solution. The JABSOM leadership, with many contributions from Hawaiʻi and Pacific Area Health Education Center director, Kelly Withy, identified multiple factors contributing to this shortage and methodologies for quantifying and tracking it over time.
JABSOM worked with legislators, donors, and federal agencies to develop the most successful health services federal loan repayment program in the country, a provider tax credit for those primary care clinicians volunteering to train future health care professionals in their practice, support for neighbor island travel and training for learners, a job recruitment program for physicians wishing to return or move to Hawaiʻi and other initiatives to grow our physician workforce and strengthen our communities.
In 2022, the legislature and Governor David Ige provided vital financial support to help expand neighbor island growth of physician training at the medical school level and during residency and fellowship training.
Opportunities for greater participation in clinical training at sites overseen by the Veterans Administration Pacific Islands Health Care System is an important component of this effort.
The state support complements efforts that JABSOM has undertaken through philanthropy to recruit, train and retain JABSOM learners on neighbor islands. Programs like the Kauaʻi Medical Training Track address the disproportionate shortage of physicians on neighbor islands and are part of JABSOM’s efforts to address health disparities in Hawaiʻi, especially among Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islanders.
“The future health of Hawaiʻi depends on those who train in Hawaiʻi, especially those who have grown up in Hawaiʻi, and will take us to that next level, and I’m really looking forward to seeing that,” Hedges said.
As Dean Hedges leaves he knows he positioned JABSOM well for the future.
“I find great satisfaction seeing the progress that’s being made. I hope to be able to contribute to the school and the community going forward,” he says. “Hawaiʻi is my home. I don’t want to take on another role nationally because we have enough to do here to make things better and make life not only rewarding but healthy in Hawaiʻi.”
Dean Hedges is leaving JABSOM in the hands of Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, the former Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, Designated Institutional Official, and Graduate Medical Education Director. She begins serving as interim dean on March 1, 2023.
“I would hope those who look back would say I opened the door to what was possible,” Hedges said. “There will be new challenges to face in the future as a school, but we have a great leadership team which will continue to evolve. The university has been my home, and I’m very grateful for this opportunity. I feel that with a proactive university which empowers our faculty and staff to pursue the missions we’ve outlined (and partnerships that reinforce our goals), much more is possible.”
View photos from the Mahalo Dean Hedges Event
View photos from the Retirement Fundraiser