Next generation of leaders emerge from public health program

For students specializing in Native Hawaiian and Indigenous health, the community is their classroom and its people are their teachers. Dedicated to its kuleana of serving indigenous peoples, the program has adopted indigenous research methodologies and schools of thought to address the needs of our communities. A track in the public health master's program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Native Hawaiian and Indigenous health is the only program of its kind in the world and will be graduating its first students in the spring of 2014. 

The program has between 12 and 15 students and is working to expand its curriculum to include a doctorate program. It's also creating connections not just within the university but directly with the community. Ultimately, the public health program hopes to become its own school with the ability to connect with other indigenous health programs around the world. Nearly three years, a program addressing the health disparities of Native Hawaiians and other marginalized groups didn't exist. Convincing the university of the importance and potential impact of this area of study was met with minimal challenges. 

"Someone has to build something that will be the start," says Maile Tauali‘i, Ph.D., about creating a model for public health programs serving indigenous populations. "We need to look critically at these issues for ourselves." The specialization head and assistant professor in the public health program, Tauali‘i was instrumental in developing the program that takes a holistic approach to health care that addresses more than just a person's physical well-being.

"Public health is about keeping our communities healthy so they never have to use health services or face the poor health outcomes, everything from mental health to physical health to economic health," says Tauali‘i. "Public health looks at a way to look at the complete person and that comes from the community and resonates from the community," she says. "They don't just need medicine, they need to not ever get ill."

In the Hawai‘i Journal of Medicine and Public Health, Native Hawaiian are said to suffer from some of the worst health disparities and socioeconomic status compared to other populations in the state. The journal lists that Native Hawaiians live 13 years less than those with the greatest life expectancy, have a high infant mortality rate, double the amount of cardiovascular disease and three times the amount of diabetes when it comes to mortality rates in comparison to Caucasians.

"When a community has good indigenous health, they have good health for everyone," says program director Jay Maddock, Ph.D. To ensure that good health is accessible by everyone, the NHIH track prepares its students for responsible leadership. Treena Delormier, a public health professor, emphasizes that this area of study is an opportunity to train people that need to be in the community.

Kimiko Wilson, a master's student graduating in the NHIH track, says a program like this allows the people of Hawai‘i to serve their communities. "It's about protocol, how do we enter a community and posture ourselves in it," says Wilson. Wilson acknowledges that Native Hawaiian values are at the foundation of the NHIH track and they are used to navigate the path of health and wellness in the Hawaiian community. "This program can unveil our eyes of the potential for our people and the potential of their health," Wilson says.

There will be two other students graduating alongside Wilson, Ashley Morisako and Chad Noble-Tabiolo. Morisako, who will continue her education in the medical field, aspires to offer treatment in a way that is appropriate for her patients. To do this, she says that a bridge between indigenous and western health needs to be made while establishing partnerships. "Our health needs to be put back into the hands of our communities," says Morisako. "We can't just associate health with a hospital or an institutionalized setting."

This article is featured in the May issue of Kai Wai Ola on page 5.

This is a news item. It was posted May 8, 2014 at 3:51pm and last updated May 8, 2014 at 3:51pm.

Native Hawaiian and Indigenous Health, NHIH, Kai Wai Ola