Despite cardiovascular disease being one of the leading causes of death in the state, with Native Hawaiians and other Pacific Islands (NHPI) suffering disproportionate rates of death from heart attack and stroke, less than half of NHPI adults know how to recognize the common symptoms of a heart attack or what to do when it happens.
Medical students at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) are trying to change that through a program called Project HEART, which stands for “Health, Exercise and Rescue Together.” They are going out to Hawaiʻi high schools to teach high school students about heart health and provide mentorship to those interested in healthcare careers.
JABSOM learners hope that Project HEART will not only encourage students to consider careers in STEM and medicine, but that the high schoolers will also share the “heart-healthy” message with their families.
Med students initiate community program
This community health program is a grassroots solution that was initiated by second-year medical students Anson Lee and Jonathan Hu in January 2022.
“Essentially we want to give them (high school students) early access to heart disease education and lifestyle modifications and we’re doing it through a problem-based learning curriculum, similar to what is taught at JABSOM,” said Hu, Project HEART co-director.
Besides learning about cardiovascular health, the high schoolers get to practice hands-only CPR on a training mannequin.
Lee, Project HEART co-director, points out that Hawaiʻi is one of the few states in the U.S. where CPR is not a required graduation requirement for high schoolers. “It’s not necessarily about getting them certified, it’s more so just making sure that every high schooler knows how to do hands-only CPR in those dire situations,” he said.
Sid Vallebo, who wants to become an epidemiologist, found the class very informative. The junior at Wallace Rider Farrington High School especially liked the Q&A portion at the end, where he and many of his classmates asked the medical students about their pathways to medical school and what types of undergraduate degrees they pursued.
“We’re really happy to resume our relationship with JABSOM since the COVID pandemic. It’s a great opportunity for our high school students to interact with people whose paths they may one day follow,” said Alette Yoshii-Ho, a teacher at Farrington High School.
The message has also reached Nānākuli, Roosevelt, Waiʻanae and Kalani High Schools with about two events held every month. JABSOM students hope to expand the program to include more schools as well as those on the neighbor islands.