He practices internal medicine in Hilo, one of the communities in Hawai’i which needs primary care physicians the most. The job can be insanely busy, because many primary care physicians have long waiting lists of eager new patients. It can feel isolated, too. The state’s major trauma center, for example, is 45 minutes away by air, on O’ahu.
But choosing to give back by serving a community in need is the most natural thing in the world for Dr. Carlos Abeyta. After all, he got into medicine through the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s Imi Ho’ola Post-Baccalaureate Program, which chooses aspiring physicians from underserved or disadvantaged areas with the hope that as doctors they will return to treat the communities they came from.
“Without the Imi Ho’ola program, I wouldn’t be here…”, Dr. Abeyta told the most recent class of graduates from the Imi program. His voice began to waver, and he paused to hold back tears. “I didn’t expect this to happen,” he said of the sudden emotion which momentarily overwhelmed him.
Imi Ho’ola has that kind of impact on people, even years out of the program. For they seem never to forget that they have been given a unique opportunity. Imi Ho’ola seeks out college graduates who show great potential to become physicians. It gives them an intensive year of study and preparation. If they complete it, they are welcomed into the next MD student class. More than 200 physicians have begun their medical careers this way, almost half of them Native Hawaiians. Several are well-known physician-leaders in the community: a chief medical officer, a former director of the state health department and others.
The Imi Ho’ola students who completed their 2010-2011 year of study will enter the Class of 2015, as it begins its first year of medical school in July 2011. On June 3, the “Imi grads” invited Dr. Abeyta to be their keynote speaker during the ceremony in which they celebrated their achievement and looked toward the future.
Never forget this gift you have been given, this entrance into medicine you have now earned, Abeyta advised them. “Being a physician is the best job in the world.”
Pictured: Dr. Carlos Abeyta, Hilo internist, with Dean Jerris Hedges. Dr. Hedges wears a ceremonial kihei, or sash, representing achievement. It was presented to the Dean by the Department of Native Hawaiian Health, which administers the Imi Ho’ola Post-Baccalaureate Program.