UH med school program helps students gain entry


POSTED: Saturday, June 06, 2009

Dr. Gerard Akaka, vice president for medical affairs and chief medical officer for the Queen's Medical Center, says he would not be where he is if not for a medical school “;boot camp.”;

The 54-year-old internal medicine physician, son of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka, says he will be “;forever grateful”; for Imi Ho'ola (Hawaiian for “;those who seek to heal”;).




'Those who seek to heal'


        Imi Ho'ola's 37-year record of giving native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders chances for careers in medicine:

» 380 students completed the one-year program.


» 252 were accepted to the John A. Burns School of Medicine.


» 204 graduated. Most are native Hawaiians.


» 70 percent of graduates are practicing in Hawaii and the Pacific Basin.


Source: Imi Ho'ola


He is one of many leaders in the Hawaiian and Pacific medical community to earn a certificate from the one-year post-baccalaureate program at the John A. Burns School of Medicine.

State Health Director Chiyome Fukino was in the first 1972-73 class, said Dr. Nanette Judd, Imi Ho'ola director in the Department of Native Hawaiian Health.

Eight students—five from Hawaii public schools, two from Guam and one from Iowa—received certificates in a ceremony last night and will join the next medical school class.

Judd said Imi Ho'ola was the brainchild of the late Dr. Terence Rogers, who founded the University of Hawaii school of medicine. He asked Dr. Benjamin Young, the first native Hawaiian board-certified psychiatrist, to help start the program to give disadvantaged native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders an opportunity for a medical career.

Students are from all ethnic groups, but many are of Hawaiian, Filipino, Samoan, Chamorro or Micronesian descent.

Initially, students completing the program had to apply to the medical school, but a change in 1995-96 gave them provisional acceptance to the school, Judd said. Up to 10 college graduates are selected for Imi Ho'ola annually, she said.

Each spring, students apply what they have learned to helping patients at the former Hansen's disease colony at Kalaupapa, Molokai.

“;It was a real commitment by the John A. Burns School of Medicine to students from various backgrounds disadvantaged in education, financial or social backgrounds,”; Judd said.

Akaka said he graduated in 1976 from UH with a bachelor's degree in speech, but he did not know what he wanted to do. “;Therefore, my grades were really poor.”;

He worked for Aloha Airlines for a few years as a flight attendant, then went back to school. He said he “;always wanted to help and serve people”; but did not think he could get into medical school directly.

He learned of Imi Ho'ola and, after “;a tough year”; in that program, completed five years in medical school and a three-year internal medical residency program. He served in the Air Force from 1992 to 1995 and returned home to work at the Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center. He was medical director there when he left in 2002 for Queen's.

Medicine is a “;second career choice”; for Seabrook Mow, 32, who graduated from UH with a journalism degree, worked five years in The Honolulu Advertiser's sports department, then went to California and worked in health-related jobs.

He said helping people made him happy, so “;I thought I'd try medicine.”; He began with Imi Ho'ola because he could not get into medical school directly, he said.

“;It's like a boot camp for medical school,”; he said. “;They give you tough love. ... They give you a very good background in sciences.”;