A Grandfather's Journey to JABSOM

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the head family now
Many medical students are in their mid-20s when they start at JABSOM, but MS1 candidate Tony Head's exciting and circuitous journey to JABSOM started when many of his peers weren't even born.

Head enrolled at Leeward Community College in 2000 and graduated with a liberal arts degree in 2008, all while working full-time and raising a family.

"When I started college, I couldn't drop everything and focus on school, so it just took a long time for me to get where I am," he said.

Head, now 49 years old, has four adult children. While Head just began his medical school journey, his youngest son, born in 2002, recently graduated from UH Mānoa. Head became a grandfather in June 2023.

"Trying to juggle everything was a bit of a challenge, but I guess the best part of that story is that I'm still here. I didn't fail any of my exams, and I'm still working through the course material."

While Head started on a liberal arts path, a tragedy sparked his passion for medicine during his first year at LCC.

"My mom passed away from cancer in early 2000. She was getting treated for myelodysplastic syndrome, and she had a really low platelet count, so she was getting platelet transfusion," Head said. "One night, during an appointment where she was having these transfusions,  she ended up having a brain hemorrhage during the night and then passed away the next day. That was probably the biggest influence in terms of pursuing research." 

After LCC, Head took a few years off before entering UH Mānoa in 2013, majoring in Molecular Biology.

"What happened to my mom pushed me to want to find answers to kind of cell-based questions and do research there," he said.

the head family then

Head graduated in 2018, applied to the Master's program, completed that in 2022, and then applied to JABSOM, all while balancing a growing family.

"Part of the decision to kind of go to school part-time instead of full-time was to dedicate myself to being a good parent, father and husband at home," Head said. "That was really the priority for me."

Looking back, he said the early years were more manageable than the teenage years.

"Kids are much easier to deal with when they're babies, and they can't crawl around and go off exploring on their own," Head said.  "We also had help from my wife's parents because they were living with us too. It's a lot easier when you have help at home. As the children get older, it's harder to rein them in and guide them. Psychologically and socially, there's a lot more going on as they get older, too. So babies were no problem."

This Father's Day will be extra special as it's Head's first as a medical school student. However, his first year didn't come without hardships. Head's father-in-law passed away in the Philippines, and he lost family members in the tragic Maui wildfires. Through it all, he persevered, and his children have noticed.

"I hope that inspires my children to want to do well for themselves. I hope that if they get anything out of what they see in me, they should keep going and pursue the thing they love in life and never quit."