Native Hawaiian students spend Spring Break investing in their f - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Native Hawaiian students spend Spring Break investing in their future

Dr. David Sing Dr. David Sing
Israel Stillman Israel Stillman
Lucille Walsh Lucille Walsh
Winona Mesiona-Lee Winona Mesiona-Lee
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The statistics are staggering -- Native Hawaiians are 68% more likely to die of heart disease and 130% more likely to die from diabetes than other ethnicity in the state, according to a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. 

Given the preponderance of health challenges facing Native Hawaiians, officials say it's important to have a greater representation of Native Hawaiians as healthcare professionals -- which is exactly what Na Pua No'eau's Ke Ola Mau Health Career Pathways Program aims to do.

46 high school students from across the state are spending their spring break at UH Manoa's John A. Burns School of Medicine.

"I know that if I came here I would been closer to achieving what I want to be," said Israel Stillman, a Kamehameha Schools Hawai'i campus junior.  "They open you up to many new experiences -- things that you could never really do on your own." 

The University system partnership with local non-profit, Na Pua No'eau, is designed to expose Native Hawaiian youth to healthcare careers in hopes it will encourage them to pursue an education in those fields. 

"It's important for us to grow our own healers," explained Winona Mesiona-Lee, the Director of the Native Hawaiian Center of Excellence at UH Manoa's School of Medicine.  "By encouraging Native Hawaiian youth to pursue health careers, we're really making a difference in terms of one, influencing their own health, as well as their vision of themselves and where they may see themselves," said Mesiona-Lee, a Native Hawaiian pediatrician. 

Doctors and medical school students, most of whom are Native Hawaiian as well, volunteer their time to instruct clinical skills and simulation labs. 

"What we want to do is say, 'Well here are some things that they can do in terms of education, in terms of career and here are some of the people that are doing that'," described Na Pua No'eau's Executive Director, Dr. David Sing. 

"Hearing about all these other Native Hawaiian doctors that made it from like Waianae and Nanakuli -- low-income communities -- and they made it to become doctors, so I can too," said Lucille Walsh, who is homeshooled in Kea'au. "A lot of my peers don't know what they want to do and then they go through Na Pua No'eau and then they say, 'Oh, I really like cameras or the medical field.'  And me in particular,  I've always been interested in the pharmacology department but Na Pua No'eau introduced me to the people who can help me get there." 

The program is offered free of charge and is available to Native Hawaiian students K - 12, with stipend opportunities for college students as well. 

"One of our beliefs is that every child has a promise.  Many of the students, they don't feel that way, and so we want to make sure that every student feels that anything and everything is possible," explained Dr. Sing. 

Ultimately, Ke Ola Mau's goal is to increase the number of Native Hawaiians who apply for and successfully complete a health career degree at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo or Manoa campuses.  

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