JABSOM's Kūpuna Focused Mini-Medical School Celebrates 10 Years

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64-year-old Rafia Hasina has been waiting for years to attend JABSOM's Dr. Rosita Leong Mini-Medical School on Healthy Aging.

"One of my friends took these Mini-Med School classes before COVID. Since then, I've waited to be accepted and finally got in."

Hasina was all smiles last Saturday as she finally got her hands on the precious 300+ page binder that she says holds the key to unlocking a healthier life in her later years.

"There is so much we need to know about our health, especially aging," she said. 

In addition to the binder containing her "homework," Hasina will return to JABSOM each Saturday morning for the five-week course tailored to issues affecting Hawaiʻi's kūpuna.

"I'm especially interested in learning how to reduce suffering and pain," Hasina said. "Mini-Med School also offers timely advice on future life planning and decision-making if something serious happens. This knowledge will make me feel more comfortable if I'm ever forced to make these tough decisions."

The Fall 2023 semester covers topics like rheumatoid arthritis, breast and prostate cancers, and spine strengthening. It also dedicates sessions to answering lingering questions like what to expect when undergoing surgery and how to use exercise as medicine.

"One thing we really want people to do as they age is to remain as healthy as possible and to continue to be lifelong learners," said Dr. Kamal Masaki, the Mini-Med School director.

Mini-Med School is now in its tenth year. Dr. Masaki, also the chair of JABSOM's Geriatric Medicine Department, is glad to see the program flourishing. Each year, there are ten new topics over five weeks in Spring, and the same speakers and topics are repeated during five weeks in the Fall. So far, roughly 1,000 people have participated. 

"The philosophy of the Mini Medical School is to be mentally active. Our students are doing that by learning here. We encourage them to be mentally, physically and socially active, and to have nutritional balance."

Dr. Masaki believes the messages shared at Mini-Med School will lead to a healthier kūpuna population in Hawaiʻi. The Mini-Medical School was started in 2014 by Dr. Virginia Hinshaw, who was a faculty member in JABSOM and Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. The Mini-Medical School was endowed by Dr. Rosita Leong, and is also supported by the UH Foundation and UH Cancer Center. Dr. Masaki gives a lot of credit to the dedicated staff of the MMS, who come from JABSOM, UH Cancer Center and UH Foundation, and help to plan and run these events.  

"It's a holistic approach," Dr. Masaki said. "Our students get more physically active. They have to get into their cars and drive here and walk, and some participate in optional exercise classes. They get more socially active because they're interacting with the speakers and interacting with the other participants while getting this valuable information on topics that are relevant to where they are in this stage of their lives."

During the pandemic, Mini-Med School went entirely online but is slowly transitioning back to in-person classes.


"Even during COVID, we were able to continue the MMS. To make sure everyone was safe, we went fully online for three years," Dr. Masaki said. "Now, we can at least have a hybrid session. We still have some who are uncomfortable coming in person, and that's okay. So we offer the online version. For those who can come, many of the Mini Medical School participants have actually formed a community over the years. They've learned, they've become friends, they love to reconnect every year and catch up with each other, and so it's really nice to see that sense of community."

Each week, 80 happy seniors attend these sessions in person, while 100 more attend online. While this isn't as rigorous as a traditional medical student's workload, attendance is expected, and "homework" in the form of handouts, is expected to be read. 

"Each speaker is expected to provide a handout. We want it to be easy for our students to read, and we ask them to get familiar with the material before arrival. We've found those who read the handouts are more engaged when they're listening and often come with pre-planned questions," Dr. Masaki said. 

Hasina hopes attending Mini-Med School will be a fall ritual for years to come.

"I've already made up my mind to return as often as possible and spread this news and the opportunity to all my friends," Hasina said. "I'm thinking of those who are middle-aged or who are taking care of their aging family members. It's very important to know your health and what can trigger certain issues."

This semester's session began with a somber remembrance of devoted JABSOM supporter and Mini-Medical School participant Virginia Weinman. A moment of silence was held at the start of the session. "We're just very grateful to her. Her generosity, along with many others, have allowed us to offer these courses to the community for free, for the past ten years," Dr. Masaki said.  

For more information on Mini Medical School, please visit: https://jabsom.hawaii.edu/minimedschool/