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Tony Head, right, with his wife, far left, and children.

Tony Head’s journey to becoming a medical student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) began long before many of his peers were born. At 49, the new grandfather and father of four adult children is embarking on a new chapter in his life—his first year at JABSOM.

While Head just began his medical school journey, his youngest son, born in 2002, recently graduated from UH Mānoa. Head became a grandfather in June 2023.

“Trying to juggle everything was a bit of a challenge, but I guess the best part of that story is that I’m still here. I didn’t fail any of my exams, and I’m still working through the course material.”

Academic aspirations

Head enrolled at Leeward Community College in 2000, earning a liberal arts degree in 2008. Despite the struggles, he never gave up on his academic aspirations.

“When I started college, I couldn’t drop everything and focus on school, so it just took a long time for me to get where I am,” he said.

When I started college, I couldn’t drop everything and focus on school, so it just took a long time for me to get where I am.
—Tony Head

The turning point in Head’s academic career came during his first year at Leeward CC when his mother passed away from cancer. Her treatment for myelodysplastic syndrome and subsequent brain hemorrhage during a platelet transfusion deeply impacted him.

“That was probably the biggest influence in terms of pursuing research,” Head said. After a brief hiatus, Head entered UH Mānoa in 2013, majoring in molecular biology. His mother’s passing fueled his passion for research, pushing him to seek answers to cell-based questions. He graduated in 2018, completed a master’s program by 2022, and then applied to JABSOM—all while managing a growing family.

“Part of the decision to kind of go to school part-time instead of full-time was to dedicate myself to being a good parent, father and husband at home,” he said.

Inspiring his children

head family early years
The Head Family in their early years.

Reflecting on parenthood, he noted that early years were easier with help from his wife’s parents, but as his children grew older, guiding them became more complex.

“Psychologically and socially, there’s a lot more going on as they get older, too,” he explained.

This Father’s Day was especially significant for Head, but he knows it didn’t come without hardships. Head’s father-in-law passed away in the Philippines, and he lost family members in the tragic Maui wildfires. Through it all, he persevered, and his children have noticed.

“I hope that inspires my children to want to do well for themselves. I hope that if they get anything out of what they see in me, they should keep going and pursue the thing they love in life and never quit,” he said.

Read more at JABSOM.

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