Department of Medicine Receives Significant Contribution from Alums

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dr. ken arakawa and wife gemie presented with certificate of gratitude for their endowed chair gift

Alongside the philanthropic greats, Dr. Thomas Whelan for the Department of Surgery and Dr. Thomas Kosasa for the Department of OB GYN, JABSOM now has the Arakawas for the Department of Medicine, its first named chair.

Grateful graduates Ken and Gemie, were recognized for the significant contribution they made to JABSOM’s Department of Medicine this month. This gift will help attract and retain top faculty and residents, who are desperately needed in states like Hawaiʻi, which face a physician shortage.

“I personally see the huge need on the neighbor islands,” Arakawa said. 

Arakawa, a rheumatologist, alternates weekly visits to Hilo or Līhuʻe to provide specialized care. Gemie is a 1979 graduate from JABSOM's Med Tech program. The couple was compelled to make the decision out of love for JABSOM and Hawaiʻi. 

“I think that’s important that we bring as many internal medicine students and physicians as possible to the entire state,” Arakawa said. 

The Endowed Chair has the power to do that as it ensures long-term stability for the Department, regardless of economic ups and downs. Current Chair, Scott Kuwada, MD, believes it will create lasting impacts in medical education and research.

“This endowment couldn’t come at a better time. We have more than 445 faculty members, and only about a seventh have state funding.  So I’m really grateful for this generous donation which will help provide additional funding,” Kuwada said. “This is a huge incentive for recruitment, too. For years to come, it’ll be a major attractive offer for any outstanding chair candidates to head this department.”

The 1982 JABSOM graduate explains the sentimental reasons behind this gift of gratitude.

“JABSOM allowed me the opportunity to become a physician, a healer, and give back to the community,” Arakawa said. “I really wanted to go back to my roots with a gift that could benefit future students, residents, and faculty. I couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to give this donation to the school.”

It’s an exciting time for JABSOM’s Department of Medicine as Dr. Kuwada successfully launched the first new full residency program in Hawaiʻi in more than 30 years. He said Dr. Arakawa’s gift will help accelerate the department’s goals. 

“With the help of The Queen’s Medical Center and Hawaiʻi Pacific Health Center, we have a brand new Primary Care Internal Medicine residency that will start this July. It will bring in four new residents a year who will then work in primary care and hopefully in Hawaiʻi,” Kuwada said. “Those are the kinds of efforts this kind of funding can support. Department Chairs come in, and they want to build programs, which takes funds, so I think this really goes a long way to help build more programs.”

Dr. Kuwada, who trained at the Mayo Clinic as did Dr. Arakawa, reflects with appreciation and amazement at the parallels in their careers.

“I’m a pineapple picker boy from Mililani, so I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be in this position, let alone being the recipient of an endowed chair,” he said. “I thank you, Ken and Gemie, for a tremendous gift in perpetuity to the Department of Medicine. It’s humbling to be the first recipient of this endowed chair.”

View the photo gallery from the ceremony here:
Dr. Ken and Mrs. Gemie Arakawa Endowed Chair in Medicine Celebration