"This is our foundation": JABSOM grads give back to Med Tech

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morton-endowment-medtech.jpegDr. Ronald “Ron” Morton (JABSOM MD 1984 & BS Med Tech 1976) sums up his life with his late wife, Kathleen “Kathy” Morton, in one sentence: “I wouldnʻt be here today, in the role that I’m in, if it wasn’t for her.” 

Their journey began long before they met. Ron, an undergraduate at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, found a love for medicine while perusing through a catalog of different programs. He found the Medical Technology (commonly known as Med Tech) program at UH, and completed the four-year program in 1976.

He then pursued an internship at the St. Francis Medical Center in Liliha, where he found a much greater love. 

Kathy, at the time, was working in the immunology department. She was a graduate of the Med Tech program in 1974 and later, became an instructor there.

“We started chatting at work, and our relationship blossomed,” he said. “I think the people around us thought, ʻOh yeah, that’ll last a year or two.’ But no, it lasted quite a bit longer.” 

The couple, who were married for nearly 45 years, continued to work together at Kapiʻolani Medical Center for Women & Children, where Ron became the hematology supervisor and Kathy became the blood bank supervisor. Once Ron began medical school, Kathy continued to provide for their family of five.

They both knew first hand that pursuing a career in medicine and healthcare would be costly, and it later became the driving force behind the Kathleen K. Morton Memorial Endowment Fund, which provides a scholarship for a Med Tech student to continue the program without financial burden. The Mortons committed to give back to the program that eventually brought them together, and it became a way to honor Kathy, who passed in October 2023.

“When I was in medical school, we had Kathyʻs parents who helped out with child care and things like that,” Ron said. “[With this endowment], we could cut back a little bit on some of that stress, especially for the student who may be a single parent, struggling to make a living, working, and trying to go to school.”

The fund is the first of its kind for the Department of Med Tech. The scholarship covers resources, tuition, and other financial needs that the student may need to successfully complete the program. 

“It’s definitely going to be very impactful,” Dr. Karen Thompson, interim program director of the Med Tech program. “Medical technology in the state of Hawaiʻi, and across the country, there’s a very critical shortage, and it’s a critical medical specialty. Part of the reason for the shortage is because of the financial difficulty in being able to apply for and go to school, to train and become a medical technologist. So this endowment is very highly appreciated.”

On January 17, the endowment was officially established at the Med Tech classrooms at the Biosciences Building at UH Mānoa. Ron had the opportunity to meet Med Tech staff - reuniting with his old classmate and current faculty, Ray Yamaguchi, and tour the classrooms. He reflected back on his time in the program with fondness.

“We have good memories of this place,” he said. “Part of the reason why we're setting up a scholarship is that we are blessed at what we have accomplished. Kathy and I both thought that we really need to give back, and we wanted to give back to this department first. This is our foundation that brought us together.”

The scholarship will also be available to those who are applying to the new Med Tech online program, launching in the fall semester of 2024.