Native Hawaiian Health Past, Present, Future is one of eight Community Health selectives (all students must ‘select’ one of eight elective options) that medical students at the John A. Burns School of Medicine in Hawai’i might choose during their first year of medical school. The course is popular and routinely filled with students for whom the course is their first choice. We can accommodate ten students each year.

The course is offered by the Department of Native Hawaiian Health and is run by two faculty members, Dr Martina Kamaka and Dr Vanessa Wong. Both are board-certified family physicians. The overarching goal of the course is to provide educational opportunities and experiences for medical students in Native Hawaiian culture, health and health care practices that will enable them to provide better, more holistic health care not only to the Native Hawaiian population, but also to the rest of Hawaii’s people.

The course features ‘community classrooms’ where much of the teaching occurs. Our community partners include community health centres; sites where governmental, non-profit organisations and cultural groups work to preserve traditional cultural practices and/or sacred sites; and a Native Hawaiian language immersion school. Guest instructors include traditional Native Hawaiian healers, Native Hawaiian academics, and scholars, as well as consultants with expertise in Native Hawaiian health, culture and related topics. ‘Service learning’ or community service projects are focused on the importance of land and environment in the fall (autumn) semester and on youth nutrition education in the spring semester. The course has undergone a significant process of review, redevelopment and growth in recent years. It has now developed into a course that provides a focused and comprehensive opportunity for medical students to explore Native Hawaiian culture, health and health care practices in detail.