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In Memoriam: Dr. Elizabeth Tam, A True Community Advocate

Hawai‘i has lost a true heroine and champion. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly ‘ohana was sad to learn that former UHPA board member, Dr. Elizabeth Tam, 68, who retired as chair of the University of Hawai‘i John A. Burns School of Medicine this past July, passed away on Friday, Oct. 8.

Dr. Tam, who was board certified in both internal medicine and pulmonary medicine, was a tireless advocate for the entire community. She is most known for her ability to translate clinical research into bedside patient care and practical public health policies and practices.

She was instrumental in helping to pass Act 304 in 1999, which resulted in the Tobacco Settlement Special Fund. This fund has supported community educational initiatives, such as the Hawai‘i Tobacco Quitline, to prevent smoking and to help those who want to stop. Dr. Tam is also known for her research on vog and its impact on respiratory health.

Dr. Tam never lost sight of her roots. After working in Boston and California, she wanted to return to Hawai‘i where she was raised. She lived in public housing as a child and became an ardent champion of changing systems to address social determinants of health.

Dr. Tam had been with JABSOM for 28 years. When her husband, Dr. Mark Grattan, whom she met in medical school. was named head of Straub Medical Center’s heart surgery practice, she returned to the islands. She joined the Department of Medicine as an Associate Professor in March 1993, and was promoted to Professor in 1999. In August 2005, she was appointed Interim Chair of the department. Four months later, she was appointed Chair of the department and was granted tenure in 2011.

Dr. Tam’s contributions on the UHPA board of directors were always valuable. She served on the board from September 2003 to August 2006, and was a member of the legislative and political action committee. She also served as a faculty representative for several years.  Mahalo nui, Liz for making us all better faculty advocates.