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To capitalize on the University of Hawaiʻi’s wide range of expertise in the health sciences and medicine, UH Mānoa has launched a new Health Sciences Initiative to better serve the people of Hawaiʻi.

The initiative seeks to have a more strategic structure in amplifying the successful work conducted by faculty researchers across the campus and forming stronger collaborations between all of the campuses of the UH System, as well as with government agencies and health systems statewide.

What more could we accomplish with stronger coordination across campus and increased integration and collaboration with our health systems and government?
—Michael Bruno, UH Mānoa Provost

“We have been discussing better ways to coordinate and collaborate across the health sciences at UH Mānoa for many years, if not decades, and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic only reinforced the importance of this work,” said UH Mānoa Provost Michael Bruno, whose office launched the initiative in 2022. “While the pandemic has forced us to collaborate in ways that forwarded our goals, I strongly believe more can be done.”

UH Mānoa offers more than 50 health science-related degrees and certificate programs, and boasts world-class research that has brought in $130 million in external research funding in the last year. Its clinical learning and care occur in partnership with Oʻahu hospitals, clinics, Federally Qualified Health Centers, private practices, non-profit healthcare organizations and a number of state departments. In addition, the dedication and pivotal work of UH faculty, staff and students who aided the state with its COVID-19 emergency response in the areas of education, research, clinical care delivery and guidance has made it evident that the university is a go-to authority when faced with a health threat or opportunity.

“While the impact of our programs demonstrates the critical importance of our work, it also gives rise to a fundamental question: What more could we accomplish with stronger coordination across campus and increased integration and collaboration with our health systems and government? As we emerge from the pandemic, our success in this area is a strategic imperative for the university and the state,” said Bruno.

Health Sciences Steering Committee

A Health Sciences Steering Committee composed of 11 members includes leaders from UH health and science units, the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, Hawaiʻi Pacific Health and Queen’s Health Systems. The steering committee has met monthly since August 2022 and is charged with carrying forth the goals established for a Health Sciences Institute at UH Mānoa.

These goals include:

people looking at plants

  • Establish an efficient operational structure to align and coordinate our efforts, to provide administrative support for operations, and to serve as the one-stop “portal” for information exchange and the unified voice for UH health sciences, medical education and research and public health education.
  • Strengthen and expand the healthcare workforce in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific through broad partnerships and efficient pathways to health sciences careers and expanded opportunities for clinical and practical training to train a workforce capable of transdisciplinary work.
  • Collaborate with state and regional government, health systems and industry partners to reduce health disparities and inequities in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, especially in building innovative partnerships and training to address social determinants of health.
  • Redefine the health sciences to recognize and collaboratively address the impacts of climate change and community health needs, and apply advances to patient care and health policy in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.
  • Lead in the convening of researchers, industry professionals and government leaders to assess, collaborate and respond to emerging and ongoing health threats in Hawaiʻi and the Pacific.

Steering committee members:

Lightning talks highlight collaborative efforts

health sciences steering committee
Health Sciences Steering Committee

A recent May 4 event, Collaborations Across The Health Sciences, held at the UH Cancer Center highlighted the richness and importance of the work done at UH Mānoa and the far-reaching impact these programs have to benefit people across the state and in the Pacific region. Five-minute “lightning talks” from 22 projects were presented, including both internal collaborations among UH units, and external collaborations with state, community and health system partners. These projects focused on community health needs, clinical training partnerships, reducing health disparities, emerging and ongoing health threats to Hawaiʻi and the Pacific, innovative government/industry/education partnerships and more.

The convening, the first of likely more to come, was attended by health sciences unit leads, researchers and external health partners.

audience at the lighting talks event
Provost Michael Bruno addresses participants at the Lighting Talks event.

“The lightning talks were meant to inform and inspire the work that lies ahead, as we strengthen our relationships with each other and leverage our passion and our expertise for a healthier and more resilient Hawaiʻi,” said Bruno. “A total of 56 proposals were submitted for the event, and we narrowed it down to 22, which is only a sampling of the impressive research being conducted at UH Mānoa. Hearing about the exciting cross-collaborations already taking place across campus and with our state and health partners on these projects tells me we can be even more impactful in the work we do.”

“The broad scope of the presented talks, and the remainder of the abstracts, allowed all participants to open their minds to possibilities for new collaborations,” said Buenconsejo-Lum. “There are many programs and projects working in similar topic areas and in various communities. The task is to synergize, leverage and appropriately resource those efforts so they can be scaled up and expanded throughout the state.”

The program, which includes all 56 submitted proposals, is available online (PDF).

Feedback from external committee members

“From my perspective with the health system, when we look to improve health and well-being, it always takes a team. We are already deeply coordinated and this was proven during the COVID-19 pandemic when we pivoted to UH Mānoa for guidance and were successful when we were able to bring the right players together. As a health system, we are all in, and we’re going to do all we can to support this initiative to address the health inequities in the state and support the next generation.”

Jill Hoggard Green, president and CEO of the Queenʻs Health Systems

“This effort couldn’t have come at a better time. As we emerge from the pandemic, we have to view the world differently going forward than we did in the past. We partner with 15 clinical programs across the UH system, and about 1,100 students in nursing, medicine, pharmacy, emergency response, and even non-clinical areas, per year filter through our facilities, and that’s a lot of interaction and collaboration. However, further unification of the health sciences and a consolidated strategy could be much more efficient that our one-off siloed areas. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity and we have to be willing to use different tools to navigate us down this new path to build a healthier community.”

Raymond Vara, president and CEO of the Hawaiʻi Pacific Health

“The Department of Health is pleased to have multiple partners throughout the UH system to support our efforts to promote and protect the physical, behavioral and environmental health for the people of Hawaiʻi. Having renowned expertise in our own backyard at UH helps us find local solutions to local problems and grow a much needed public health workforce.”

Kenneth Fink, director, Hawaiʻi State Department of Health

Looking ahead

Aerial view of U H Manoa campus

To ensure the success of this new endeavor, the Provost recommends the establishment of an amplifying structure to facilitate and coordinate the work for the Health Sciences Initiative. The proposed office—with key positions including an executive director, program specialists, research coordinators and others—will serve as a single point of contact for both internal and external partners. Funding support may come from existing resources, but will also require sustained state investment.

For more information, go to the Health Sciences Initiative website and view presentations from units offering snapshots of their academic programs, research and extension highlights and existing collaborations in the health sciences.

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