A Family of Healers: The Murayama Family

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The Murayama family. Courtesy photos. 

The Murayama family never intended to be a “JABSOM family,” but medicine is in their blood, and their ties to the John A. Burns School of Medicine run deep.

Kenric, the patriarch, is a 1985 JABSOM graduate and Chair of the Department of Surgery. His wife, Norma, is a former nurse and Friends of the Medical School president. Their son Matthew is a second-year Family Medicine resident in Riverside, CA. Their other son, Michael, graduated from JABSOM in 2018 and is practicing pediatrics. Their youngest daughter, Sarah, is a member of JABSOM’s class of 2023 and graduated on May 14.

“We just feel very lucky to be part of the JABSOM family. The environment they provided is such a good one, and it’s hard not to be a part of this JABSOM family,” Kenric said.

With each child following in their parents’ footsteps, some may think the Murayamas are “tiger parents,” but the kids will be the first to note that was never the case.

“They were never those overbearing, ‘you have to go into medicine’ parents, Sarah said. “They actually were really hands-off.”

Sarah said Kenric and Norma quietly led by example.

“From a young age, I always saw my dad in the hospital. My mom was a former nurse, so healthcare was always in the background in our family,” Sarah said. “My dad was always very humble, so we, as kids, probably underestimated how great he was in his career. Now that we’re older, we realize all that he’s accomplished. Growing up, we just saw how much he cared about his patients, his career, and what we saw was the passion,” she said.

“He certainly set a great example for us,” Michael said. “He did a great job balancing patient care and family time. When we were growing up, we never thought of him as this amazing surgeon or a surgeon at all. He was just dad.”

Seeing their father’s passion up close made a strong impression on the kids because Michael didn’t set out to be a doctor.

“I had tried out a bunch of things related to patient care, but ultimately, it was medicine that really fulfilled what I was looking for,” Michael said.

The same could be said for Matthew. He spent a year in marketing before deciding to become a physician. Sarah will be an Obstetrics-Gynecology resident at the University of Hawaiʻi Residency Programs. A career in medicine may have been her destiny.

“When I was younger, I would say I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist, which I don’t even know how I knew what that was,” she said with a laugh.

While their JABSOM journeys were inspired by the example set by their dad, Kenric admits his dream, back in the 80s, nearly didn’t get off the ground.

“I did not get into medical school the first time I applied,” he said. “JABSOM didn’t even offer me an interview the first time I applied.”

Kenric didn’t give up. He applied again, and JABSOM offered an interview. The rest would be history.

“Without JABSOM, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t have been able to build things for our family,” Kenric said. “I always feel a debt of gratitude to the school. Hopefully, I’ve made them proud. They gave me a chance to become a physician, but without JABSOM, I was ready to apply to be a chef!”

In 2019, Kenric was inducted into the American College of Surgeons Academy of Master Surgeon Educators and is the only surgeon educator to represent Hawaiʻi. While his patients are grateful Kenric’s precision is being practiced in the operating room, his family learned the life of a surgeon is demanding and can recall many long days and moves.

“We have put our kids through the military drill here. We’ve moved around,” Kenric said. “When I moved back in 2015, Michael was actually a first-year medical student, but Sarah was a senior in Philadelphia in college, so Norma stayed in Philadelphia with Sarah, and I came home, and Michael and I lived with my mom.”

When Kenric returned to Hawaiʻi, he came back to care for his mother but also to give back to his alma mater as Professor and Chair of the Department of Surgery. Norma got involved too. As President of the Friends of the Medical School, she gained a deep insight into JABSOM and how students are trained to be the future physicians of Hawaiʻi.

“It’s also shown me the support that many community leaders or the outside community give to JABSOM to educate students,” Norma said.

That insight helped the Murayamas guide their children through the challenges of medical school.

“Having that support system at home is really nice,” Sarah said. “Knowing that you can kind of unload to someone who really understands what you’ve gone through and probably also has gone through something very similar. I think our mom and dad have been through it all through the years, so it’s nice to have that outlet at home.”

Kenric said the JABSOM his children attended has evolved from the one he graduated from in the 80s.

“I think the biggest changes are the quality of the education and, more importantly, the quality of the students. I’m not just saying that because my kids went here,” Kenric said. “The quality of the students increased tremendously. I tell people often if I were to apply now, I would not get into this medical school. It’s just become so much more competitive.”

“I think JABSOM does a really good job of creating a family within the medical school,” Sarah said. “They really build that community between the students and faculty preceptors in the community. I’ve loved my time here. It really prepares me for the clinical settings ahead.”

Decades have brought positive change, but many values remain firm.

“JABSOM has done a pretty good job of keeping focused on their original mission, which was to provide education for people to be healthcare providers in this state,” Kenric said.

The Murayamas are proud that their children are, too, fulfilling that mission.

“When they all gravitated back to medicine, there was this sense of pride and happiness because I know how fulfilling a career this can be,” Kenric said.

“Deep down, as a parent, you want them to do what makes them happy,” said Norma. “They could have stayed on the mainland, but coming home and being home kept our family together. There was this sense of pride and happiness that we were all together as a family.”

Video produced by Deborah Manog Dimaya, with filming by Janell Agcaoili and Matthew Campbell: