$3.4 million to develop Native Hawaiian doctors

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Bree Kaneakua, Winona Lee and Chessa Harris, Associate Chair of Finance and Operations, Department of Native Hawaiian Health.

The nation’s only Center of Excellence focused on increasing representation of Native Hawaiian students in medicine and other health professions has received a $3.4 million grant from the WE Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to continue to help Native Hawaiians pursue these careers through education, research, and community initiatives.

The Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence (NHCOE) based at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABOM) has supported the advancement of Native Hawaiian medical students and faculty for 30 years. The center provides the inspiration, tools and financial assistance necessary to fulfill the dream of many students of being able to serve the population of Hawaii as doctors.

“Our Native Hawaiian students are the future leaders we need to ensure communities across Hawaii receive the quality health care services they deserve,” said Winona Lee, NHCOE principal researcher.

Equity for Native Hawaiian Students

Medical school can be intimidating for anyone. Addressing barriers beyond our control, such as socioeconomic health disparities, can be even more challenging for students. Programs like NHCOE emphasize equity and provide students such as Bree Kaneakuaa native Hawaiian from Hilo, an opportunity to even the odds.

As a native Hawaiian, it’s so easy to feel like you don’t belong in the medical field.
—Bree Kaneakua, JABOM student

“As a native Hawaiian, it’s so easy to feel like you don’t belong in the medical field,” said Kaneakua, who is a fourth-year medical student at JABOM. “It’s such an intimidating field for everyone. It’s difficult. So feeling like you don’t belong in 99% of the rooms you’re in comes with the territory.”

Kaneakua added, “Having this metaphorical ‘piece’ to JABOM, where I feel like I fit in and belong, that means a lot. It shows Native Hawaiian students that we belong in this field. There is a place for us.

When 2022 JABOM graduate Dillon Tacdol entered medical school, he relied on NHCOE for assistance with the application process.

“The Native Hawaiian Pathway to Medicine program helped me get into medical school,” he said. “When I was applying to medical school, the MCAT was moving to a new system where they incorporated social science into the test. The test had changed. I was able to get books to study. The NHPM program also prepared me for medical school interviews and helped me write personal statements.

The Native Hawaiian Student Pathway to Medicine program has led Tacdol to `Imi Hoōla program, which paved the way for him to enter medical school by preparing him in the basic sciences and understanding the problem-based learning framework.

Tacdol and Kaneakua found the skills they learned in `Imi Hoōla would serve as a source from which they would draw for years to come.

“It set me up for success once I got into medical school. Now, in my fourth year, as I begin to prepare applications for residency, I am still drawing on the knowledge I have gained NHCOE“, said Kaneakua.

Tacdol added: “NHCOE helped find mentors and other colleagues who provided me with information and could understand what I was going through as I navigated between medical school and residency. Without NHCOE, I think it would have taken a lot longer to get to medical school. I am very grateful to this program for helping me get to where I am today.

Learn more about the JABOM website.

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