By Greg Kashige of Nā Pua No’eau
The next time she feels thirsty, O’ahu 10th grader Tina Wong says she likely won’t drop coins into a soda machine. She’ll opt for water, instead. Wong is changing her ways after a visit to the “pono lifestyle station” at Teen Health Camp Hawai`i. “Can you imagine that one soda has so much sugar,” she said after seeing a health educator demonstrate the equivalency between 22 sugar packets and a single soda can. “That made me think twice about putting bad things into my body,” Wong said.
Nearly one-hundred middle and high school students made interesting health and wellness discoveries at the one-day event last month on the UH West O‘ahu Campus. Teen Health Camp Hawai‘i, which will be held again on April 27 in Kaua‘i, is sponsored by Nā Pua No‘eau, the Center for Gifted and Talented Native Hawaiian Children in partnership with UH Mānoa’s Health Careers Opportunities Program and the UH John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) Area Health Education Center. The camp is designed to introduce Native Hawaiian youngsters in grades 8 through 12 to opportunities in a wide assortment of healthcare careers, ranging from conventional bedside nursing to lesser known occupations such as medical social worker. The camp offers workshops and skill demonstrations run by volunteers, who are local healthcare professions and UH medical and nursing students. Teen participants at the West O`ahu camp spent the day learning everything from daily duties emergency medical technicians to the benefits of improving personal healthcare habits.
“We want to reach out to Native Hawaiian youngsters and let them know that a rewarding future in healthcare professions awaits them,” said UH med student and Teen Health Camp co-founder Brandyn Dunn, adding that the camp also addresses Hawai‘i’s workforce shortage in healthcare. The shortage has been identified in the State’s Workforce Development Plan. “This especially affects most Native Hawaiian communities. We not only need more providers, we need them to be from the communities they serve,” Dunn said, adding that the latest research shows that the quality of healthcare is enhanced by providers who understand the cultural attitudes of their patients.
At last month’s UH West O‘ahu camp, representatives of local organizations handed out brochures and dispensed advice on how to pursue training for more than 20 healthcare careers. “We want to empower our students and give them all the necessary tools to make the right choices for themselves so that they can further develop as Native Hawaiian leaders,” said Nā Pua No‘eau staff member Kaleo Manuel.
The more than 50 healthcare volunteers at the camp included Native Hawaiians from Ke Ola Mamo and from departments and organizations at the University of Hawai‘i, including the John A. Burns School of Medicine, The School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene, the Pre-Med Association, the Health Promotion Program, the Native Hawaiian Student Pathway to Medicine Program, and the Health Careers Opportunities Program within the UH Office of Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity. The volunteers led the hands-on activities that attracted wide-eyed teen curiosity. One of the big hits was “Stitch It Up,” that put surgical instruments in attendees hands with detailed instructions on how to suture abrasions on a simulated human arm. There was also “CASTing Call,” that enabled participants to apply and remove real the material used on victims of broken bones in actual emergency rooms. Another popular station was “Ola Pono,” that spotlighted Hawaiian healing traditions.
While leading activities, several camp volunteers also took the opportunity to urge teens to aim high for professional success in healthcare. Nā Pua No‘eau’s Kaleo Manual praised the volunteers for setting a good example for the young participants. “Our Native Hawaiian youngsters need the motivation from mentors who can say, `I was once in your shoes and as difficult as it was, I was able to move ahead and uphold a kuleana for the good of myself and my `ohana and my community,’ ” he said.
Another purpose of the West O‘ahu Teen Health Camp—to be held for the first time on Kaua‘i in April, was to recruit eligible high school student for a health career mentorship program that will be run by first-year medical students from the University of Hawai‘i. Similar to the camp, the mentorship program aims to promote diversity in the healthcare field. Experts say that diversity, known also as cultural competency in the healthcare workforce, is integral to eliminating health care disparities, such as the disproportionately high burden of chronic diseases affecting Native Hawaiians. The belief is that physicians and others in health care delivery need sensitivity toward diverse patient populations to understand and improve culturally influenced health behaviors.
Meanwhile, for Kasey Nunies, who attended the UH West O‘ahu Teen Health Camp, the dream of someday going to medical school is one step closer to reality. “I’ve been thinking about becoming a doctor, but coming to this event and learning how to suture and make a cast has pushed me further towards my goal, and I know I will make it,” she said.
Mahalo to Elizabeth Simon of UH Mānoa’s SEED Office for contributing to this story. Mahalo to UH West O’ahu student Mellissa Lochman for the terrific photos and also thank you to UH West O’ahu public information officer Julie Funasaki Yuen.