August 1, 2016

Developing Leaders in Indigenous Health: The Kalaupapa Service Learning Project

Winona K. Lee, Chessa C. D. Harris, Kawika A. Mortensen, Malia S. Lee

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa John A. Burns School of Medicine


The Kalaupapa service learning project engages indigenous and disadvantaged students in the cultural, historical, and modern-day experiences of patients with Hansen’s disease (aka leprosy). The project offers an immersive, culturally-based, educational curriculum for students pursuing careers in medicine which culminates with a huakaʻi (excursion) to the Kalaupapa settlement.

The Kalaupapa service learning project has been previously shown to enhance students’ knowledge related to humanism in medicine. This paper explores the potential of the Kalaupapa service learning project to increase student knowledge of indigenous perspectives and potentially contribute to their development as future leaders in indigenous health. Student participants completed written reflections that addressed student perspectives of the experience and community post-participation. A total of 41 student reflections (from 2008-2013) were analyzed, and emerging themes across reflections were identified. Results showed that resiliency, unity, and personal relationships were prominent themes. For indigenous students, demonstrating resiliency, fostering personal relationships, and achieving unity among peers are significant contributors to student success. In addition, the experience may have reinforced students’ desire to serve rural and underserved communities. The Kalaupapa service learning project is an educational model that not only enhances future physicians’ knowledge and awareness of humanism in medicine but also broadens the participants’ knowledge of indigenous values and perspectives and has the potential to develop future leaders in indigenous health.

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