male and female on phone
Pre-Medical Association students make health check-in calls to kūpuna statewide.

Students with the largest pre-health organization at the University of Hawaiʻi have been instrumental in offering COVID-19 vaccine resources to elderly throughout the state. Pre-Medical Association (PMA) members at UH Mānoa are collaborating with Our Kūpuna, a nonprofit and community initiative project with a mission to help Hawaiʻi’s elderly with their daily needs during the pandemic. Since mid-February, PMA volunteers have connected with 84 kūpuna to provide assistance.

a senior woman holds up a kupuna sign
(Photo credit: Our Kūpuna/Kelsie Mercado-Uehara)

“At first, we contacted Our Kūpuna to see if they were interested in receiving handmade cards from our members for the kūpuna, but instead they shared the idea of these health check-ins and their need for volunteers,” said Lauren Nakamine, PMA’s director of community service and a third-year biology student.

“We were thrilled the pre-medical association students reached out to us, and we wanted to utilize them quickly due to the vaccine rollouts,” said Our Kūpuna Program Director Vince Abramo. “The students are amazing and have been essential in providing resources and being empathetic with kūpuna.”

Checking in, talking story

Nakamine and her fellow student volunteers dedicate a few hours each week to reach out to kūpuna who are eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and ensure they have the resources to get vaccinated. As part of the health check-ins, students ask questions and help assess their physical, mental and social well-being. Data collected by the volunteers, such as how many seniors are receiving the vaccine and barriers they have encountered registering for the vaccine or getting to the vaccination site, are also reported to the Hawaiʻi Department of Health

“Some may have trouble registering or have transportation issues and we do our best to provide contact information for different vaccination clinics as well as transportation services on their specific islands,” said Nakamine. “Besides the logistics of being a health check-in volunteer, we spend time with the kūpuna and listen to their stories/life lessons as many have been isolated since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Uplifting, motivating

senior woman getting a vaccine shot
(Photo credit: Our Kūpuna)

Chase Kane, a first year chemistry student, said the experience has been uplifting and motivating. “So many kūpuna are extremely thankful for the services that Our Kūpuna provides and that we ‘young people’ are checking in on them, even if it is only for 15—20 minutes. A lot of the time, they just want to talk to someone about their day. It’s also interesting to hear strangers on the phone tell you about their pasts and life lessons; I will definitely remember some of their stories!”

“Whether it’s scheduling an appointment or getting to the clinic site to receive the vaccination, it feels great to make an impact by providing the resources our at-risk populations and vulnerable kūpuna can contact to get their vaccination,” added Anna Fan, a third-year biology and psychology major.

“Many kūpuna have shared that they are lonely due to the pandemic. They can only communicate with their family and/or friends through the phone or Zoom,” said Shareen Chee, a second year molecular cell biology major. “Physical and mental health are always a priority, so by calling weekly, I hope that I can brighten their day.”

Nakamine encourages students and non-students alike to consider signing up for Our Kūpuna, especially on the neighbor islands where there are fewer volunteers. “There are many who still cannot leave their house due to their health conditions and the pandemic, so even if you can only assist one senior with getting groceries, medication, supplies or social interaction—it would make a great difference in their life.”

Learn more about volunteering with Our Kūpuna.

More on PMA

With 150 members, PMA strives to provide all UH students with a holistic perspective of the field of healthcare, helps members to develop academically and professionally through service and leadership opportunities, and foster collegiality among peers with similar goals and interests. Learn more about PMA online.

This outreach is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Enhancing Student Success (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

—By Arlene Abiang

group photo of pre-med association
Pre-Medical Association members