Perseverance Pays Off for ʻImi Hoʻōla Graduate

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imi hoola class of 2024

"It's the most amazing feeling. I think it's probably going to hit me at the White Coat ceremony, but I look back, and I think that it's been such a long journey for me. I get super emotional because I've tried so hard, so many times, and now I'm finally going to live the dream I've been longing for."

Aljay Carnate is one of the nine graduates of JABSOM's ʻImi Hoʻōla's class of 2024. ʻImi Hoʻōla is a program located within the Department of Native Hawaiian Health designed to provide educational opportunities to students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are deemed capable of succeeding in medical school.

"I'm filled with excitement and overjoyed about the opportunity of being a practicing physician for my community."

Carnate is one step closer to realizing his dream of becoming a practicing physician for his community. After a year of rigorously studying concepts and principles in the sciences and humanities while refining their communication and critical-thinking skills, Carnate, Lindney Acosta, Richelle Hannah Alfonso, Kai Hirayama, Jeannie Ho, Christian Llantero, Nicholas Loi, Kiara Moffitt, and Leo Wu were rewarded with an automatic admission to JABSOM.

"ʻImi Hoʻōla makes you step out of your comfort zone. They say you have to be comfortable with being uncomfortable," Carnate said. "It kind of teaches you to navigate and be resilient because medicine is not easy."

Carnate's journey to ʻImi Hoʻōla was not easy.

"I applied to ʻImi Hoʻōla and JABSOM and got rejected the first time. The second time I applied, I got rejected from JABSOM but waitlisted for ʻImi Hoʻōla," Carnate said. "I gave myself a third try, and this time around, I was waitlisted for JABSOM, but I got accepted to ʻImi Hoʻōla."

Carnate made the most of the opportunity.

"I was studying from 6:30 in the morning to 10:30 at night," Carnate recalls. "I felt like I was constantly studying 24 hours and never had time. I had to say no to family parties and friends wanting to hang out. It was a sacrifice that I had to make, but I knew that this would allow me to pursue a path in medicine."

Carnate, who grew up in Kalihi, decided to become a physician after seeing his grandmother endure stage four cancer.

"It had already spread to her brain," he said. "She decided not to tell us about her condition until it was too late because she didn't want to place a financial burden on my parents. That stark choice led to her passing. After witnessing that firsthand, I knew that I wanted to go into medicine because I want to provide access for low-income communities like Kalihi."

For 50 years, ʻImi Hoʻōla has put more than 300 students from disadvantaged backgrounds on a path to medicine. Many have gone on to serve Hawaiʻi in remarkable ways. ʻImi Hoʻōla director, Dr. Winona Lee, said nearly 40% of all Native Hawaiian physicians practicing in Hawaiʻi have come through the program.

"We look to the future as we see the graduates tonight leading the way for change here in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific," Dr. Lee said.

Carnate and his peers in the Class of 2024 aspire to follow the lead of the preceding classes. 

"I think it's so important to have physicians who represent various people and identities,"
Carnate said. "For me, I represent the low-income community, the gay community, the first-generation community, the Filipino immigrant community. These are the identities that intersect, and I continue to represent. I hope that by having these identities, my patients can relate to me and trust me. I also hope that being here will empower and uplift those in future generations who want to go into medicine. They can see me and be like, 'Hey, if he can do it, then I can do it too.'"