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Anson Lee and rep from US Public Health Services
Anson Lee and United States Public Health Services representative.

A third-year medical student from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) has received national recognition for developing programs that facilitate community-wide learning and prevention of heart disease, the leading cause of death in Hawaiʻi.

Once I got to med school, I realized how much could be and should be done for cardiovascular disease.
—Anson Lee

Anson Lee received both the prestigious excellence in public health award and recognition from the United States Public Health Service as the recipient who best embodies the service’s mission of protecting, promoting and advancing the health and safety of the nation.

More than 18,000 patients statewide are hospitalized annually from cardiovascular disease; heart disease is responsible for three out of every 10 deaths in the state—about 3,000 deaths annually—and also responsible for 55% of all deaths in Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

“Not a lot of the mainland people are looking into [cardiovascular issues within Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (NHPI) communities] since their databases don’t have NHPI populations,” said Lee. “Of course, Hawaiʻi will since they have large populations. Traditionally, these groups aren’t looked at individually; they are grouped. It is a huge gap, and I would like to do more projects, especially related to cardiology and heart health.”

Community outreach programs fueled by personal experience

Lee’s outreach projects stemmed from the loss of his grandfather, but ultimately, it was his passion to raise awareness for cardiovascular disease and his desire to reduce inequities in cardiovascular health that pushed Lee to take action.

“Once I got to med school, I realized how much could be and should be done for cardiovascular disease. That’s what I decided to focus my efforts on,” he said.

Related: Heart health education at high schools led by medical students, December 2022

Lee co-founded Project Heal, Exercise, and Rescue Together (HEART) as a way to both educate and reach out to the public schools on Oʻahu, noting that collaboration with the greater community was at the project’s heart.

“We wanted to do high schoolers because [about 40] states have CPR certification as a graduation requirement. Hawaiʻi is not one of those states,” Lee said. “I came from a private school; we were required to be taught CPR. Maybe not every school will have that since not every public school will have funding.”

Lee’s other organization, Check Your Pressure, is meant to give back to another vulnerable population—Chinatown residents who recently immigrated to Hawaiʻi. The program allows Chinatown residents to receive preliminary heart health screenings. Cardiologists provided basic free healthcare services such as blood pressure and BMI tests.

“We just want to give them a heads up. We can’t diagnose them with anything from one blood check, but maybe we can say ‘hey, maybe see a healthcare provider because this is a bit high,’” Lee explained. “Cultural competency and [acknowledging] different backgrounds comes into play here in medicine when you’re trying to talk to different people.”

Lee is continuing his efforts in research and community outreach, and is looking forward to what the future holds for him.

Read more at JABSOM.

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