Growing up in a big family, Hi‘ilei Ishii-Chaves developed a knack for taking care of people.
“I’ve had to take care of a lot of my siblings,” says Ishii-Chaves. “And I’m good at taking care of children.”
The fourth-year biology major from Hilo has known for a long time that she wants to become a doctor. And because of her background, she’s most interested in family medicine and pediatrics.
“Doctors come from the mainland and they serve people in Hawaii, but it’s rare that you find Native Hawaiian doctors in the medical field,” says Ishii-Chaves. “If I can become a doctor, then I can help children and better inform them. I feel like it’s my job to give back by educating my community.”
When her advisor and professor at Chaminade, Dr. Cogbill, sent her a list of summer research projects on the mainland, she jumped at the opportunity. She was quickly partnered with a Jamaican doctor at the Burnham National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, who specializes in pediatric internal medicine.
“I liked that my mentor was working on diabetes in children,” explains Ishii-Chaves. “I’ve always been interested in health disparities. I also really liked that my mentor is of a minority as well.”
Ishii-Chaves is spending the summer researching type 2 diabetes in children. She’s particularly looking at dyslipidemia, or abnormally elevated levels of cholesterol and fats found in the blood, in children with type 2 diabetes to see how it compares to adults with the same disease. Her team hopes the research will lead to early detection, and even prevention of the increasingly common childhood disease.
But perhaps the most attractive part of the program was the hands-on experience. Several times a week, she shadows her mentor and accompanies her on patient visits. “I take patients to do blood tests, MRI scans and echocardiograms, and I sit in on their evaluations or wait in the waiting room with them,” she says. And every two weeks, they go into the children’s hospital in Washington D.C. to spend a full day visiting patients.
Ishii-Chaves has found the experience to be particularly timely for her right now. “I’m actually applying to medical school right now for the 2020 cycle through Chaminade’s articulation agreement,” says Ishii-Chavez.
She hopes the invaluable experience and connections she gains this summer will stay with her throughout her journey of becoming a doctor.