The Best Medical Schools in Hawaii

The 50th state added to the United States, Hawai’i has many wonderful aspects. Those living there can enjoy everything from verdant jungles to rich cultural history to fine cuisine. But there’s one thing that Hawai’i doesn’t offer – a variety of medical schools. 

In fact, there is only one medical school in the state, the University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine. 

Does that mean that future doctors should avoid the state? Of course not! In addition to the surf and scenery, the University of Hawai’i boasts a medical program that would be second to none, even if there were other schools to which it could be compared.  

Based in Honolulu, the University of Hawai’i – Mānoa is the flagship school in the state’s university system. With a 320-acre campus and a $327 billion endowment, the institution is an excellent place to study. Over its 100+ year history, UH has graduated high achievers, including Senator Tammy Duckworth and Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons. The school has everything a student would want, including first-rate support staff, state-of-the-art labs, and a dedication to serving its diverse student body. 

So what should future doctors know about studying medicine at the University of Hawai’i? Read on to learn the benefits, and best strategies, for joining the school. 

University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine (Honolulu, HI)

University of Hawaii
Travis.Thurston, University Hawaii Manoa Campus Roundtop, CC BY-SA 3.0

Although Hawai’i did not become a state until 1959, the state’s flagship university was established as a land-grant institution in 1907. Since then, the school has evolved into a tier-one research university, thanks largely to its medical school, the John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). 

With a $57 million endowment, JABSOM leads the way in research and the training of doctors in the area. U.S. News & World Report places the school at 64th in the nation for research (tied with Chicago’s Rush University) and at 24thplace for Primary Care (tied with the University of Vermont and Ivy League schools Dartmouth College and the University of Pennsylvania). 

Perhaps the most impressive element of JABSOM is its commitment to diversity, which the school encapsulates with the acronym ALOHA: Attain Lasting Optimal Health for All. According to this vision, JABSOM strives to create a learning community that reflects the differences in the island on which it stands. That mission includes not only multidisciplinary education but also pursuing “alliances unique to Hawai’i and the Asia-Pacific region” and acting “with forethought regarding right relationships, respect, and moral action.”

To achieve these goals, JABSOM employs a problem-based learning curriculum that values community-based medicine. The school gives students practical, hands-on training by placing them in clinical rotations and internships at their many partner hospitals, including Wahiawa General Hospital, Straub Clinic and Hospital, the Kapi’olani Medical Center for Women and Children, and U.S. Army and Veteran’s Affairs Clinics. Students can also advance their research agendas by working with affiliate institutions such as the Asia-Pacific Basin Health Education Center, the Asia-Pacific Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases, and the Center for Native and Pacific Health Disparities Research. 

These resources clearly pay off with the successes enjoyed by JABSOM students and alumni. Just a week ago, two Ph.D. candidates received $5000 Achievement Rewards for College Scientists grants to advance their research. Earlier in the month, faculty member Jess Owens received a $2.3 million award from the National Institutes of Health to study the therapeutic benefits of gene delivery to the human genome. 

MCAT and GPA Required for Admission

Even if there were many other schools in the area, these impressive credentials would demand that the University of Hawai’i’s medical school have high standards. But as the only medical school in the state, JABSOM is very difficult to enter. 

In 2020, the school received 300 applications from would-be students in Hawai’i and 1,876 applications from out-of-state, for a total of 2,176 people trying to enter the program. After interviewing 306 applicants, JABSOM offered admission to a mere 67 in-state students and ten out-of-state students for a highly exclusive 3.5% acceptance rate. That’s even more selective than all the Ivy League schools except for Harvard, which admits only 3.4% of its applicants. 

With such a low acceptance rate, it isn’t a surprise that the university is very demanding when it comes to its academic standards. On average, students accepted into JABSOM have an undergraduate GPA of 3.76. The average MCAT of students given acceptance is 512. 

Those statistics fall in line with most medical schools in the country. However, as the only such institution in Hawai’i, the stakes are much higher. Applicants must have taken the MCAT within three years of their matriculation from undergraduate studies, and they must have earned 90 credit hours from an accredited institution. 

During their undergraduate studies, students must take lab-based courses such as general biology, general physics, general chemistry, and organic chemistry. They must take biochemistry, but a lab component is not required. The admissions guide also recommends that students take courses such as anatomy, calculus, cell and molecular biology, genetics, etc. 

Strategies for Admission

With such a low acceptance rate, those who hope to study at JABSOM must be strategic when completing their applications. Of course, one should strive to earn high grades in the aforementioned required courses and work to get the required overall GPA. Taking exam prep courses and practicing on sample exams can help one achieve a higher grade on the MCAT to reach those basic requirements. But admissions into JABSOM, or any medical school, isn’t just a numbers game. Admissions counselors want well-rounded students in their program, not just those who can do well on exams. 

To ensure that they receive those types of students, JABSOM has admissions requirements beyond just GPA and MCAT scores. Future students must first fill out the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) application, conveying essential information to potential schools across the country. The application process begins on June 1st, with the early decision program deadline arriving on August 1st and the regular deadline arriving on November 1st. With the application, students must pay a $150 fee. This fee is non-negotiable, so be sure to include it in your application plans. 

After submitting the AMCAS, JABSOM also requires a secondary application unique to their program. While this might seem like an unnecessary redundancy, the secondary application does in fact work in favor of most students. This secondary application provides one with even more chances to stand out and to show the school the well-rounded student they could be.

In particular, the secondary application includes a request for letters of recommendation. Most know that a strong letter of recommendation should come from a respected professor in their field, but that’s not all of it. The recommender should not only be able to speak to your strengths and abilities (in other words, don’t ask for a letter from a professor who gave you a B in their class) but also should be someone who knows you well. 

To secure a good letter of recommendation, one should start early. Figure out which professors have strong reputations in the field into which you plan to enter and take steps to work with them. Take several classes with them and volunteer with them to establish a working relationship. And of course, be sure to earn good grades in their classes. 

Letters of recommendation speak to your abilities and characters more than any other part of the application. But with good grades and a strong letter, you’ll have the best chance of being one of those rare people who get accepted into the Burns School of Medicine.