Ko with a student patient.

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) fourth-year medical student pursuing a specialized radiology discipline is the recipient of a select grant by a national organization.

Andrew Ko
Andrew Ko

Andrew Ko is pursuing interventional radiology (IR), a little known and competitive specialty, which is challenging because there are few local shadowing or clinical opportunities available in Hawaiʻi. The Class of 2021 student was fortunate to be one of 10 recipients of the Grants for Education of Medical Students Scholarship (GEMS) awarded by the Society of Interventional Radiology.

Ko and nine other GEMS recipients from throughout the U.S., are seeking to be the first generation of physicians in their families, identify as being an underrepresented minority in the medical field, and also fall into the socioeconomically disadvantaged applicant pool.

Personal ties inspires path

Ko chose IR because his father was diagnosed with a rare condition called a cerebral arteriovenous malformation, which Ko described as “basically blood vessels in the brain that form improperly and are at risk for bleeding.”

I want to take part in furthering our abilities to maintain quality of life for our patients,
—Andrew Ko

The specialty, called neurointerventional radiology, has procedures that can treat the condition, but there are not many physicians who practice it, and there were none in Hawaiʻi at that time. Ko’s father, who had to be flown to San Francisco for the procedure, later died from conditions related to the illness.

Ko said he wanted to become a physician because he wants to be part of the crucial moments in patients’ lives. “Being able to help patients and their families during these times is gratifying,” he said. “I also think that, more commonly, these diseases affect quality of life. As a physician engaged in lifelong learning, I want to take part in furthering our abilities to maintain quality of life for our patients, such as minimizing the debilitation from stroke.”

Promoting interventional radiology at JABSOM

GEMS allows students to participate in an away rotation during which they work at an institution with programs that have IR residencies (Hawaiʻi does not have one), and receive mentorship (this year will be virtual clerkships). Students receive a stipend for the away rotation and an additional stipend for a trip to an annual conference in the summer.

Due to COVID-19, there will not be an away rotation. Instead, Ko and the nine other student recipients are virtually learning together from faculty at multiple institutions including Yale University, Johns Hopkins University, Emory University School of Medicine and others.

Ko wants other JABSOM students to learn about IR because it is a specialty that is both competitive and has few local opportunities to learn. The GEMS award is a chance for local students to get their foot in the door into nationally recognized programs around the country.

“This is about putting a JABSOM face to a recognized program,” Ko said. “We have many students who can fulfill the eligibility criteria. I very much hope to empower students who were in my shoes.”

—By Paula Bender