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12 Enter the ʻImi Hoʻōla Post-Baccalaureate Program, With Hopes of Becoming Medical Students

Date: September 7th, 2022 in JABSOM News, MINORITY, Native Hawaiian, Native Hawaiian Health, Student Life    Print or PDF

2022-23 Incoming 'Imi Class

Janette Keola grew up in Honolulu, never dreaming she could become a doctor or have a career in medicine.

“I never saw physicians who looked or talked or had the same experiences as I did,” Keola says.

The seed was planted after Keola was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, a condition that occurs where the thyroid gland produces too much of a particular hormone.

“When I was diagnosed, I got the chance to see how medicine was a career field that aligned with my personal values of altruism and giving back to my community without any sort of pretense or expectation of reciprocation,” she says. “I was 13 when I thought, ‘hey, medicine is really the only career field that can satiate my desire to give back to those who got me to the point where I am.'”

When Keola graduated from Sacred Hearts Academy in 2016, she knew she wanted to pursue the field of medicine. She completed undergraduate studies in Neurobiology at UC Berkeley and continued her education at Keck Graduate Institute in Claremont, CA, before returning to the islands.

“Medicine was the path for me,” Keola says. “I witnessed the disparity that Native Hawaiians like myself and other people in my community faced. I realized I’m someone who could help address those needs. The most logical decision was to return to Hawaiʻi, where I could give back to my community.”

Keola is now entering a path to becoming a physician through the John A. Burns School of Medicine’s ʻImi Hoʻōla program. A critical part of JABSOM’s commitment to diversity, ʻImi Hoʻōla will be celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.

ʻImi Hoʻōla was created to ensure Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islanders, and students from under-represented groups had access to careers in medicine. In 1996, the program was restructured to focus on providing students from disadvantaged backgrounds with an opportunity to realize their dreams of becoming healers for their communities.

Translated as “those who seek to heal,” ʻImi Hoʻōla is a rigorous year-long post-baccalaureate program that immerses students in all facets of medicine.

It’s a competitive program where dozens of students vie for just a dozen spots. Administrators lovingly describe it as a “medical school boot camp.” Those who successfully complete the program are not only rewarded with a place at the John A. Burns School of Medicine with a stronger basic science foundation and are more familiar with the Problem Based Learning Process.

On August 18, ʻImi Hoʻōla welcomed its new class of students. Along with Janette Keola, Megan Andrade, Mitch Cadiz, Ariel Chong, Kirsten Chun, Aileen Ferrer, Erin Kim, Lauren Kim, Juliana Muña, Alyssa Jade Nuñez, C. Kahulu Nunokawa, and Madavrolyn “Liti” Tausa make up the 2022-23 ʻImi Hoʻōla Class.

After doing research with Dr. Keawe Kaholokula, Professor and Chair of the Department of Native Hawaiian Health at JABSOM, Ariel Chong was inspired to apply.

Chong said, “I saw the need for more Native Hawaiians to get into the medical field. Specifically doctors. I’m excited for the challenges. I know it will be hard, but I’m excited to go through all of it.”

Nearly 300 ʻImi Hoʻōla graduates have become physicians, and more than 80 percent have chosen primary care careers. Many continue to give back to Hawai’i by working in the islands and caring for our people.

Keola, too, understands the responsibility that comes with the honor of being part of the ʻImi ʻohana.

“It’s my kuleana to give back to my community. I know it’s a very big burden to carry because it’s not just myself and my immediate family who can benefit. It’s generations past and generations to come that are looking at me to be a model for health care and what it takes to be a physician in Hawaiʻi.”

2022-23 Incoming 'Imi Class

2022-23 Incoming ‘Imi Class Photo by Matthew Campbell

Matthew Campbell, Director of Communications

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