Blazing a Path of Health Equity, Dr. Teresa Schiff-Elfalan Selected as Macy Faculty Scholar

Related News Articles


Dr. Teresa Schiff-Elfalan is again breaking new ground at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine. Today, she becomes the first to represent JABSOM as a Macy Faculty Scholar. 

Designed to identify and nurture the careers of promising educators in medicine and nursing, Schiff-Elfalan was one of five scholars selected from a field of 68 applicants for the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Faculty Scholar program. Macy Faculty Scholars receive salary support up to $100,000 per year over two years to implement an educational scholarly project in their institution and participate in a program of career development activities. 

Schiff-Elfalan, JABSOM's inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Social Justice, and Underserved Care, will work with JABSOM faculty to continue building an integrated health equity curriculum, looking to our school’s land acknowledgment as a guidepost toward training future physicians to practice culturally grounded, critically conscious medicine. 

"It’s important that our health equity curriculum is relevant to us here in Hawaiʻi as critical conversations about diversity, equity, and belonging often look different here than on the US continent," Schiff-Elfalan said. “There are many already working on various aspects of this curriculum within the C3 Team of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health, Clinical Skills, Learning Communities, the HOME Project, C-CODE (Coordinating Committee for Opportunities, Diversity, and Equity), and Community Health, to name just some of the many folks involved. I hope to provide our teams with coordination and support to help connect each of these pieces to longitudinal overarching objectives and assessments.”

Equity in medicine continues to be a focus in the healthcare community, but 15 years ago, when it was largely under the radar, it was a priority for Schiff-Elfalan. "When I started school in 2009, social determinants of health were not routinely taught, and the term' social justice' was seen almost as radical," Schiff-Elfalan remembers.

Undeterred, Schiff-Elfalan carved a path to address these critical, yet non-mainstream, topics. Her efforts later grew to collaborate with other UH schools and the community to build the Partnership for Social Justice. Eventually, she, along with Katherine Reith, created the Dean's Certificate of Distinction in Social Justice in their second year of medical school, with support from their faculty advisors Drs. Seiji Yamada, Gregory Maskarinec, and Keawe Kaholokula. Today, approximately 8-12 students receive the distinction annually.

"I am where I am today because of other friends and faculty who also recognized that we needed to think differently about health and healthcare delivery," Schiff-Elfalan said. "I couldn't have done this without advisors willing to step into this new space and give us the freedom to explore what this meant to us as students. I’m grateful that so many of my prior teachers are now my friends and collaborators in the work I do today."

Dr. Richard Kasuya was one of the instrumental figures in paving the way for Schiff-Elfalan as a medical student as she created co-curricular offerings surrounding social determinants and social justice. 

"Dr. Kasuya wasn't necessarily the person talking about social justice with us on a day-to-day basis," Schiff-Elfalan said. “He was using his position as a leader to ally with us to help create the space to make this content more mainstream and more recognizable."

An ally during her medical school journey, Dr. Kasuya continues to be a trusted mentor for Dr. Schiff-Elfalan today. Being selected as a Macy Faculty Scholar allows Schiff-Elfalan to work with a faculty mentor, and she chose Dr. Kasuya. 

"People like Dr. Kasuya opened doors for my friends and me," Schiff-Elfalan said. "I hope to be that same kind of leader, to create spaces where our leaders of tomorrow are empowered to create solutions to the problems in front of them."

Now a JABSOM faculty member, Schiff-Elfalan is encouraged to see the work she started more than a decade ago flourishing with each incoming class of medical students. 

"There are so many students now in each class who so clearly have a heart for the underserved, for the people who are often on the outskirts or marginalized in society, students who are really committed to thinking about how they're going to create safe spaces for their patients and a path to better health," Schiff-Elfalan said. "This transforms not only that individual patient's journey but also the world around them." 

"Many of our learners have fluency in health equity language and think about these concepts on a regular basis," Schiff-Elfalan said. "I want to design faculty development tools that are engaging and meaningful to our faculty so that we can keep up with our students and then support them by modeling this for use in the clinical world."  

Schiff-Elfalan's application included a nomination letter from Interim Dean Lee Buenconsejo-Lum, MD, and letters of support from Dr. Kasuya, Dr. Danny Takanishi, and Dr. Jill Omori. As a Macy Faculty Scholar, Schiff-Elfalan will train at the Harvard Macy Institute. She will receive peer mentorship from recent Macy Faculty Scholars and connect with a senior advisor from its National Advisory Committee with a special interest in similar areas. Schiff-Elfalan will be paired with Larry Gruppen, PhD, from the University of Michigan. 

From her days as a JABSOM student, where she created the Dean's Certificate of Distinction in Social Justice, to making social justice at JABSOM part of the bread and butter of the curriculum in her role as Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Social Justice, and Underserved Care, some may consider being named JABSOM's first Macy Faculty Scholar as a full-circle moment for Schiff-Elfalan. She is grateful to have accomplished so much and for the support of those who helped her – and continue to help her – along the way. 

"I feel just so honored to have this opportunity, not only for myself but also for the medical education training and mentorship that I'll receive and bring back over the next two years," Schiff-Elfalan said. "I am also excited to represent JABSOM and bring new resources to help us internalize the pillars of underserved care and social justice so that we can work together toward our goal of A.L.O.H.A. to attain lasting optimal health for all.”