MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Leimomi Kanagusuku graduated from medical school last month. She credits her grandmother with getting her to the finish line.
Kanagusuku grew up on her grandma's farm in Waianae, where she spent her days making mud pies and feeding the chickens.
"Living in a simple way of life kept me in touch with my roots," she said.
Her grandmother fell ill with heart issues when she was in the sixth grade, and in high school she learned about the health obstacles Native Hawaiians faced.
"I made it my mission to give back," she said.
She was a first-generation college student when she made it to Stanford University. Before her first semester ended, her grandmother passed away from lung cancer.
And last month, Kanagusuku was part of a ceremony at the University of Hawaii John A. Burns School of Medicine honoring new physicians of Native Hawaiian ancestry.
All six graduates wore a traditional kihei draped on their shoulders. Each new doctor was to design the cloth with prints and colors unique to their individual journeys into medicine.
Kanagusuku decorated hers with symbols reminding her of her grandmother and family.
JABSOM is the nation's only medical school with a clinical department dedicated to the health of Native Hawaiians.
"Native Hawaiian health has been the subject of national legislation because things have gotten so bad," said Tina Shelton, director of the communications office of JABSOM. "We feel it is important to nurture Native Hawaiian physicians."
Dr. Emmett Noa Aluli spoke at the ceremony for new doctors. He said that he's seen the number of Native Hawaiian physicians grow in recent years.
"There were 14 other Hawaiian physicians in the community actually practicing," he said, "and now proud to say there's probably more than 300 of us."
Kanagusuku was well aware of the lack of physicians in Hawaii. That's why she took on a concentration of health in underserved communities during her studies.
"My dream is to come back to my home town of Waianae," she said. "It's my mission to come back and help."