Just a few weeks into Alexander Muto’s first year of medical school, disaster struck his hometown of Lahaina, Hawaii. 

In early August 2023, wildfires ravaged areas of Maui, Hawaii’s second-largest island, leading to the deaths of more than 100 residents and the destruction of more than 2,200 homes.

“The fires happened in the middle of my anatomy course,” said Muto. “I had just moved here and was getting settled in Kentucky, and then it was like, ‘Oh, by the way, your hometown just burned down’— it was very difficult.” 

Muto didn’t let the more than 4,000 miles between him and his home stand in his way. He quickly began organizing relief efforts and coordinating aid shipments to the area, all while balancing his first semester of medical school. 

Muto is no stranger to serving his community. When he was 15 years old, Muto helped found the Ignite A Life Foundation. Established to bring hope and opportunities to Hawaii communities, the Ignite A Life Foundation now aspires to bridge a strong connection between Hawaii’s chapter and Kentucky to address the states’ similar need for more accessible, high-quality health care in rural areas.

According to Muto, Hawaii and rural Kentucky share a lot of similarities, including a close-knit family culture, pride in where you come from, and a love for driving pickup trucks. It’s a big part of the reason he was drawn to Kentucky and the UK College of Medicine Rural Physician Leadership Program (RPLP). 

“The whole state of Hawaii is rural,” he shared. 

Muto sees the need for a rural medicine program in Hawaii and dreams of building a similar rural medicine program there in the future. Of course, he still has plenty of time to make that happen. Like all RPLP scholars, Muto will spend the first two years of medical school at the UK College of Medicine-Lexington Campus. For his third and fourth years, Muto will relocate to Morehead, Ky., where the RPLP is based. 

In the months immediately following the wildfires, Muto worked alongside his fellow students, as well as faculty and staff, from the UK Colleges of Medicine and Arts and Sciences to host a benefit concert, solicit donations from the UK community, and engage with local organizations with ties to Hawaii, like Big Kahuna Hawaiian BBQ, Lexington, to garner community support.

“I really love this school,” shared Muto. “The UK community was willing to come together and donate to make things happen.” 

Muto also had help on the ground in Hawaii. His dad is a cardiologist in Maui and has been working there for over 30 years. His dad’s practice, Maui Cardiology, served as a hub for collecting donations, sharing supplies, and setting up a VHS radio network to ensure communication during relief efforts. 

Muto sees his role as a future physician as more than someone who treats patients, but instead, a community leader who can use his skills and training to create healthier communities and inspire future generations.

“When you are a rural physician, it’s more than being a leader in the clinic or hospital. You are a leader in your community, and people look to you as an example,” he said. “It’s not just about the medicine, it’s about making an impact on the community around you.” 

The Rural Physician Leadership Program is an educational program housed in Morehead, Ky.