Jester Galiza, a fourth-year medical student and class president at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM), was awarded the 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award from the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). He becomes only the fourth JABSOM student in the school’s history to receive this top award for medical students. Galiza was recognized for 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.
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.
“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).”
“Congratulations to Jester Galiza on being awarded the prestigious 2021 Excellence in Public Health Award,” said JABSOM Director of Student Affairs 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.
Raised in ʻEwa Beach, 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.
Advocating for social and health equity
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 Lt. Gov. Josh Green at the state Capitol, alongside other stakeholders to talk about the rampant use of e-cigarettes among Hawaiʻi’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 among children.
As a proud graduate of JABSOM’s 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.
He plans to pursue Med-Peds (a combination of the Internal Medicine and Pediatrics specialties) and looks forward to practicing as a primary care physician.