The journey from her home in Līhuʻe to national recognition for her work at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) is rooted in the love Elisabeth Young has for her Kauaʻi community.
The JABSOM senior, who will graduate this May, says she was always curious about people and science. “In medicine, you’re always a student,” she said. “I think there are many ways to care for others and care for the community. For me, medicine was a tangible way to do that.”
Young received national recognition from two medical organizations. She was the winner of the 2017–2018 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service for her work in promoting health and safety in the community. In 2018, she also was selected by the American Medical Association to attend its first Foundation Leadership Development Institute in Chicago.
The aspiring doctor credits her humble upbringing in Līhuʻe for inspiring her. “Growing up on Kauaʻi in a community that is so caring, where people reach out if you need anything, I feel like medicine is an extension of that in the way that I would want to spend my work, in a way that was meaningful for my soul,” Young said.
Commitment to public health, a career in pediatrics
Young’s early education and experiences at JABSOM cultivated her commitment for public health and social justice. It gave her a foundation in the social determinants of health and made her curious about how physiology is affected by where people live, work, play and learn.
In her third year at JABSOM, Young made the difficult decision of taking a one-year leave of absence to expand her education in public health. She attended Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health where she earned her master’s degree in public health.
“Before graduating from medical school, I wanted tools to understand how populations are affected by health and how we’re able to change the systems in place so that everyone can be healthy,” she said. “I think that expanding myself in that way really broadened the way I look at an individual patient.”
When she returned to JABSOM, Young thought about what a career in pediatrics would look like. “What I care about most is recognizing that every person has an internal worth,” Young stated. “I’d like to invest in that so they can pursue what they want at a younger age, and specializing in pediatrics will allow me to be more fulfilled all around.”
Creating good doctors
Young volunteers several times a week with the Homeless Outreach and Medical Education (H.O.M.E.) project, spearheaded by JABSOM. Staffed by medical faculty volunteers and students, the mobile clinic provides free health care to homeless citizens at various locations on Oʻahu.
It’s where she is gaining valuable experience and where her passion for medicine and for caring for people is apparent. “Whatever patient presents themselves to the H.O.M.E. project, you’re there to say that you have worth, and I’m going to give you the same care that all people deserve,” she said.
For Young, JABSOM was the perfect fit for her medical training. It was not only clinically and academically rigorous, but it also helped her to realize she was capable of pursuing a career in medicine. She added, “The type of doctor that JABSOM wants to put forward are proactive leaders who possess the humility and compassion to meet their patients on a level-playing field.”
Returning to her roots
No matter where she does her next phase of post-graduate training, Young says Kauaʻi is where it all started for her and she wants to return to serve in that community. She speaks with a passion and deep appreciation for growing up in a place where people cared about each other so much.
She reflected back to a time when her family’s stove broke and they were cooking outside for awhile because they weren’t able to purchase another one. “One day, a Sears truck came by our home and dropped off a new stove. That kind of anonymous generosity, without any expectation of being recognized, is what makes Kauaʻi so uncommonly kind and so special,” Young shared. “It’s my desire to give back to the community that gave me so much. I want to pour into them as much as they poured into me.”
Young acknowledged her parents for being her greatest role models. She said, “ I hope to be as hard working, generous, honest, faithful and joyful as they continue to be. I couldn’t have done anything without their love.“