Congratulations to Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum on Being Selected as the Interim Dean at UH’s Medical School

Kudos to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) for their selection of Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum to be their new interim dean. Her selection is well-deserved, well-merited. For our Filipino community, her selection is particularly inspiring to many of us because our community is underrepresented among 1) medical doctors; and 2) top level administration and faculty in higher education.

In this light, Dr. Buenconsejo is a trailblazer on both accounts, and she is truly a role model for many of our youth intending to pursue medicine as well as for those currently in medical school.

Many within the university have expressed confidence in Dr. Buenconsejo during this transition period because of her decades of experience at JABSOM in practically all facets from research, teaching and top-level administration (details in this issue’s cover story).

Plan early in life
What our youth can draw inspiration from is Dr. Buenconsejo’s journey to be where she is at today. At a very young age she was a well-balanced student in both academics and activities like student council.  In college she worked hard and had family support. She was inspired by medicine at a very young age from her uncle who was a physician.

Many doctors will tell you that they’ve been inspired to pursue medicine and have been preparing for the profession at a very early age.

Prepare for the long-haul
As most already know the journey to becoming a medical doctor is long and arduous. Breaking down the number of years required: four years to complete an undergraduate degree, four years of medical school, 3-7 years to finish a residency program, and some will go that optional extra mile to finish a fellowship that takes 1-3 years. In total, on average it is about 14 years of college and training.

And when you consider the high cost of higher education, that’s an additional weighted commitment. Over the past decade, medical school costs have risen roughly 20%. With tuition, fees, and health insurance, four years of medical school can cost students roughly $155,000-$250,000, according to

On top of years of commitment and the financial debt incurred, there are many life issues that must be in place that will afford a medical student stability, focus, and continuous drive to complete the entire process – that is very daunting, to say the least.

On the flipside, the rewards of being a doctor are priceless: you save lives, you heal people and therefore bring security and comfort to their entire family. On the financial end, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay of a doctor is greater than or equal to $208,000 a year. In some states, there are programs that will pay off a doctor’s student loan by a certain amount in exchange for a commitment to work in that state. This is increasingly becoming common, and it helps medically underserved communities by drawing in doctors or keeping them in place.  

But the hard work it took for schooling and training doesn’t end. Many physicians will tell you, it’s immensely rewarding, but challenging.

The job growth rate (2020-30) for doctors is 3%, which experts say is low. This reflects on the national shortage of physicians. Within medicine, some areas have even lower growth rates: obstetricians and gynecologists (0% in the same time period), surgeons (-1%), internists, general (2%), peditricians (-2%), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The actual factors for the shortage in part have to do with the challenges stated above, but also the large number of retiring doctors are not being replaced. There are deterrents such as the complexities of modern medicine requiring large overhead, compliance with regulations for reimbursements, and to practice medicine (for those who want to get into private practice, which used to be a major incentive) now requires far larger capital and entrepreneurial acumen. In addition to all those factors, the shortage is also related to increased demand: 1) there is a larger senior population (graying of the Baby Boomers), as well as 2) larger overall population with increased access to medical treatment due to the Affordable Care Act.

Dealing with physician shortage
Among the priorities besides preparing students to be the best doctors, supporting research and managing systems-budgeting, deans at medical schools (and JABSOM is no different) must work with government, the medical community and community-at-large, to build partnerships to meet the needs of our state in the area of public health.

And dealing with the physician shortage is among the highest concerns in public health in our state at the moment. Retired JABSOM Dean Jerris Hedges and partners in government have set in place increased scholarships, increased the number of students and residency programs, established a successful repayment program, increased the number of locals to JABSOM (which is designed to help keep graduating med students on the islands to practice medicine) – all of these are among some initiatives that will alleviate the pressures of our state’s physician shortage.

These initiatives must be continued and be expanded by JABSOM and the State if we are serious about dealing with the physician shortage.

We are encouraged that Dr. Lee Buenconsejo-Lum has been an insider-collaborator-leader at JABSOM all these years who already is aware of this urgency and have been working on ongoing solutions.

It bodes well for our community if the permanent dean to be selected at JABSOM already has a deep and thorough understanding of what our local community’s needs are besides being a top-rated academic. We trust the process and are already encouraged by Dr. Bueconsejo-Lum being selected as interim dean.

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