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UH medical student’s dedication, commitment to achieve health equity has earned him national recognition

Date: August 11th, 2021 in JABSOM News, Student Life, UH Manoa    Print or PDF

Jester Galiza, MD 2022 candidate and class president at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (UH JABSOM), was given the 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS), becoming only the fourth JABSOM student in the school’s history to receive its top award for medical students.

“Congratulations to Jester Galiza on being awarded the prestigious 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award,” said JABSOM Director of Student Affairs Dr. Lawrence Burgess, who nominated Galiza. “Only one nominee is awarded per medical school annually,” he said. Of the total number of nominees across the country last year, 110 students were ultimately selected. Galiza follows the ranks of previous USPHS awardees including Kalei Hosaka (2020 award), Elisabeth Young, MD (2018 award) and Brandyn Dunn, MD (2014 award).

The national award is given to medical students who are public health champions advancing the USPHS mission to “protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation” and who are helping address public health issues in their community. It serves as affirmation of his engagement in advocacy and health policy and his drive to fight for health equity, which stems from his personal experiences as a first-generation Filipinx-American whose parents immigrated to Hawaiʻi from the Philippines.

“I have an intimate understanding of the challenges our underserved face and a passion for their social justice in Medicine,” Galiza said. “As a future physician and community leader, it is my life’s calling– my kuleana (deep-seated privilege and responsibility).”

Raised in Ewa Beach on West Oʻahu and a graduate of Campbell High School, Galiza lived and witnessed firsthand the unfortunate reality of how one’s zip code or ethnic background has the potential to dictate social and medical outcomes. He went on to receive his bachelor’s degree in biology at Dartmouth College and a master’s degree in education from UH Mānoa. By undertaking many leadership roles as a medical student at JABSOM, Galiza has influenced many of his peers to engage in his quest to achieve health equity. His titles include inter-class council president, director of advocacy and activism for the Partnership for Social Justice, president for Primary Care Progress and co-president for the American Medical Association/Hawaii Medical Association Student Chapter.

Galiza has spearheaded events to advocate for issues in social and health equity and has engaged his fellow medical students to make a difference in the community through the legislative process.

For example, he organized a group of medical students to attend a roundtable with Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, MD at the state capitol, alongside other stakeholders to talk about the rampant use of e-cigarettes among Hawaii’s youth. He also led the effort in mobilizing medical students to support a bill that would ban fruit and candy-flavored nicotine products and liquids for e-cigarettes, which he believes is the culprit for the widespread use of e-cigarettes among children.

As a proud graduate of the JABSOM ʻImi Hoʻōla Post-Baccalaureate Program, which is dedicated to recruiting and training future physicians from disadvantaged backgrounds, Galiza obtained nearly 70 written testimonies and nine oral testimonies from medical students in support of a bill that would establish funding for ʻImi Hoʻōla and the school’s department of Native Hawaiian Health, the only medical school department in the country that is dedicated to the health of indigenous peoples.

“In total, JABSOM students have provided nearly 300 written testimonies for ten different bills this past year alone, which all have progressed through various stages in the legislative process. Unfortunately, the pandemic halted all legislative sessions, cutting short the prospect of any of these bills to be enacted,” Galiza said.

He has also spent a considerable amount of time volunteering for the Hawaii Homeless Outreach and Medical Education (HOME) Project, a mobile, student-run, free health clinic. His responsibilities with the HOME Project grew year to year, from taking vital signs to overseeing the clinic and even coming up with assessment plans for patients. As a fourth-year student, Galiza will be conducting a leadership project of his choice that will aid in the improvement of the program and provide better care for its patients. In addition, Galiza has been an active member of the HOME Project and has participated in its many outreach opportunities for homeless individuals and their families, including food and gift distributions, the gathering of school supplies and flu vaccine clinics.

“Through my longitudinal involvement with this organization, I have been able to promote high quality, longer lives for our homeless populations while contributing to our school’s efforts to support improved access to health services for the underserved,” Galiza said.

In addition, Galiza is tackling health equity issues through research. Recently, he contributed to the project, “Utilization of a Family Medicine Quality Improvement Curriculum to Address Patients with Uncontrolled Diabetes.” Through chart review and data collection, he found that the majority of patients with uncontrolled diabetes were Native Hawaiian and/or lived in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. The residents and faculty in the Family Medicine Residency Program were engaged in quality improvement projects that primarily targeted vulnerable and underserved populations, with a long-term goal of providing a framework that could eventually be implemented across all residency programs, “expanding the reach that our physicians-in-training can have on our most vulnerable and disadvantaged populations,” Galiza said.

Now a fourth-year medical student, Galiza plans to pursue Med-Peds (a combination of the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics specialties) and looks forward to practicing as a primary care physician. In the future, he also hopes to be involved in academic medicine, conducting clinical or public health-related research and engaging in legislative and social justice work, particularly around issues related to social determinants of health and health inequities.

By Deborah Manog Dimaya, Interim Communications Director
Featured graphic: Courtesy photos. Top right: Filipinx for Black Lives. Bottom right: ʻImi Hoʻōla alumni with Dr. Winona Lee at the State Capitol.

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