Summer Student Research Program is Inspiring the Next Generation of Physicians


True to its mission “to create a healthier Hawaii,” Hawaii Pacific Health is investing in the state's next generation of future physicians through its annual Summer Student Research Program. 

Now in its 31st year, the program, better known as SSRP, provides college undergrads a rare backstage pass into the world of medicine. 

“The whole idea of establishing (SSRP) was to give young people exposure to the medical field so they could make a decision if they wanted to pursue a career in medicine, because you don’t really know that much about medicine when you’re in college,” says Dr. Robert Kistner, a vascular surgeon at the Kistner Vein Clinic who was one of the founders of the program in 1986. 

“We wanted to help students come into medicine, and through the years, this program has become very well organized and has turned into a very sophisticated research and education program,” he says. 

Over the course of eight weeks, participants have the opportunity to conduct clinic research, shadow physicians, observe surgeries and other medical procedures, and visit Hawaii Pacific Health’s four medical centers – Kapiolani, Pali Momi, Straub, and Wilcox on Kauai. 

Participants learn about the many different career paths medicine has to offer through talk-story sessions with physicians from various specialties, visits to medical facilities and other optional activities. 

The program’s “life cycle of research” curriculum also offers participants a glimpse into the role of clinical research in the daily practice of medicine. 

“We have the book work, we know medical terminology, but how do you know what you want to do when you haven’t done it yet, or you haven’t seen it yet? The shadowing opportunities, and the opportunities to casually talk with doctors and health administrators to get an insider’s view at what their life is like is so crucial,” says Jesse Woo, a 2017 research scholar from Creighton University. 

“What’s so great about this program is that we meet so many different doctors – the wide breadth and getting to see so many different viewpoints into medicine is incredibly valuable,” seconds fellow Research Scholar Jordan Kondo from the University of Southern California. 

Both 2013 graduates of Punahou School, Woo and Kondo learned about SSRP from former participants at their respective colleges. Listening to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences these past scholars took part in – from participating in hands-on clinical research projects to visiting the sacred lands of Kalaupapa – convinced the fledgling physicians-in-training that this program would put them leaps and bounds ahead of their peers in the medical profession. 

“This program bridges the gap between amateur and professional, and instead offers a unique opportunity for undergraduates to find their passions to pursue medicine, not as an intern or an apprentice, but rather as an aspiring medical professional,” agrees Ryan Nakamura, a 2016 participant who is currently a senior at Whittier College in California. 

“SSRP gave me the opportunity to delve into the intricacies of clinical research, surgical procedures and the everyday lives of practicing physicians,” elaborates Nakamura. “Over the course of this eight-week program, I grew tremendously as a scholar and as an aspiring physician. I made meaningful connections with numerous medical professionals and learned to appreciate the art in medicine. This program is a tight-knit community, and I am so thankful for the many opportunities that I was graced with last year.” 

To date, more than 320 students have completed the program. Of those graduates, 85 percent of recent alumni have been admitted to medical and research programs at prestigious institutions nationwide, and several have returned home to practice in Hawaii. 

“I always knew I wanted to be a physician, but my experience in SSRP helped me understand the different specialties of orthopedics and ways I could help the athlete,” says Dr. Justin Young, a sports medicine physician at Straub Medical Center who went through the SSRP process first-hand in 2002 as a pre-med student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. 

“As a pre-med student, you don’t have any real opportunities for an internship. You can work in a doctor’s office, but at the college level, there’s no real internships available to you,” Young says. “This program is one of the closet things you can get – it’s comprehensive and gives you more experience than your class work. SSRP is a good introduction to a large health care system and helps the scholars create a foundation in their medical careers.” 

Through investing in the future careers of its student research scholars, Hawaii Pacific Health also is placing an investment into the future of health care in the islands. 

“There is a shortage of roughly 600 physicians in Hawaii – about 20 percent of the workforce – and this program is one way that we’re working to help solve this problem – by introducing bright, young students to a career in medicine,” says Dr. Ken Robbins, executive vice president and chief medical officer of Hawaii Pacific Health. 

“It shows Hawaii Pacific Health’s commitment to stewarding the health of Hawaii when we get to speak with CEO and President Ray Vara or chief medical officers like Kenneth Robbins – for us, it’s really valuable to see what it’s like at the administrative level and how they see moving and progressing health care forward. It’s a vision that we get excited about, seeing ourselves down the line as part of Hawaii Pacific Health,” says Kondo. 

“In 10 years, I really hope to be working with Hawaii Pacific Health. This program has really opened my eyes,” Kondo says. “We’re very grateful for the investment that Hawaii Pacific Health commits to this program. It’s something we’ll remember, and we hope to pay it forward.”


Published on: July 20, 2017