CINDY ELLEN RUSSELL / CRUSSELL@STARBULLETIN.COM
Matthew and Laura Weissbach attended a presentation for the Quentin Burdick Interdisciplinary Rural Health Internship program held yesterday in Spalding Hall at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Pictured with the couple is friend Jennalin Spencer.
Health care students reach out to rural areas
A training program is motivating future health care workers to focus on small towns
Laura Weissbach always thought she would be a pediatrician for a large hospital in the city, but a six-week University of Hawaii summer program in Hanalei, Kauai, changed her mind.
Weissbach, a graduate nursing student at UH-Manoa, spent this summer giving health lessons to children at Hale Halawai 'Ohana 'O Hanalei. Now, she and her husband plan to move to Kauai after she graduates next summer.
Rural Health Program
The Quentin Burdick Rural Health Interdisciplinary Training Program is recruiting students at the University of Hawaii at Manoa for about 20 spots in next summer's class. For more information, e-mail Program Director Jan Shoultz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"There's a lack of health care (in Hanalei)," said the 33-year-old, originally from Seattle. "They don't have a pediatrician close by. The closest one is in Lihue."
Weissbach is one of the 18 UH students who participated in the Quentin Burdick Rural Health Interdisciplinary Training Program this summer.
Students in the six-week program work in rural and underserved communities. It's hoped the program will also encourage students to consider working in rural areas, which have a greater need for health care. For Weissbach, it has done just that.
"I want to live and work in a small town," she said. "In Hanalei, it's one big family. Everyone is so friendly."
The students, who are from UH-Manoa schools of Medicine, Social Work, Nursing, Education, Psychology and several others, were divided into six groups and lived and worked in Molokai, Lanai, Honokaa, Pahoa, Waimea and Hanalei.
"This is an actual course," said Jean McAuliffe, program assistant. "(The students) receive grades ... they do a practicum, two presentations and a paper."
The team in Honokaa -- Heather Kauwe, Mike Gatti and CJ Rodriguez -- looked at how education is directly related to the type of health care one receives.
They found that many people in the community didn't have health care because they couldn't afford it. So instead of giving health care lessons, the group decided to help encourage high school students to pursue higher education, so they will be able to afford health care.
The team mentored five Honokaa high school students, who may become the first members of their families to graduate from college. They helped the students fill out college forms, search for financial aid and scholarships and gave them a tour of the UH-Manoa and Kapiolani Community College campuses.
"Now (the high school students) can dream a little bit," said Ron Matayoshi, director of practicum. "Before, there was no dreaming. They needed exposure. They didn't know their options."
About 67 students have gone through the rural health program and graduated; 31 are now working in rural and underserved areas or with underserved populations, according to McAuliffe.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye helped create the program, which has been in Hawaii since 2000. In 2006, funding switched from the federal government to state funds.
"Students really learn to appreciate working and living in a rural community," said state Senate education chairman Norman Sakamoto, "versus complaining about having to take a job in the rural community."