Center of Excellence in Diversity in Medical Education

Spotlight on Leadership


KAPONO CHANG, Undergraduate, Class of 2011

My Inspiration
“I had a teacher in high school who taught botany, but he also brought in parts of traditional Hawaiian medicine and techniques. He got me interested in how traditional healing and spirituality could be integrated into modern science. Holistic healing gets to the source of the problem at a more psychological and spiritual level—it’s not just about treating the physical symptom.”

My Passion
“I know that if you have a dream or passion you can find a way to persevere. Stanford’s environment is one that embraces new ideas and change, and is helping me to bring together my interest in combining traditional Hawaiian culture with Western medicine.”

My Future
“I’m not sure exactly what kind of medicine I will end up practicing  or if I end up in health policy, but I do know I have a responsibility to help people and plan to return to my land and help improve the health disparities in Hawaii.”

Growing up in a small, semi-rural community in Oahu, Kapono Chang learned early about the importance of blending different traditions. His mother, a lawyer, was Hawaiian-Japanese, and his father, a retired policeman now working for an airline company, was Chinese. From the fourth grade on he attended a school that emphasized the importance of the culture and conventions of Native Hawaiians.

“I grew up in a place with great cultural awareness and am proud of my culture and identity,” says Chang, a sophomore majoring in anthropology and minoring in human biology. “But I also knew that I was interested in medicine, health, and the environment. I knew I wanted to combine those interests.”

Chang vividly recalls a ninth-grade trip to Kaho?olawe, a small island used by the U.S. military during World War II as a weapons test site. By law, the island can now only be used for Native Hawaiian cultural, spiritual, and subsistence purposes. Working with his classmates to restore the trails and landscape of the traditional sacred Hawaiian land, Chang was struck by how important it was to hold on to his heritage and how his positive actions could repair damage from outside forces.

“I want to preserve who we are as Hawaiians and discover ways to stay connected to our traditions while coexisting in a western society,” he says.

Chang was attracted to attend Stanford because he sensed that he could further define his interests without being pigeonholed in a mandated curriculum. Though there were a lot of adjustments to make at first, Chang quickly got used to the pace and found a network of fellow Hawaiians for academic, moral, and social support. He also got involved in a volunteer group that is striving to coordinate outreach programs for the underserved Polynesian communities in East Palo Alto. 

Chang also signed up for the Ethnicity and Medicine class offered by the Center of Excellence (COE) at the school of medicine during his freshman year.  He shares that this class allowed him and others to discuss the delicate but important issuses related to ethnicity and medicine.  He believes that the “COE is a wonderful program, especially for minorities, because the center strives to continuoulsy find ways in improving health care in a multi-cultural approach to medicine” which makes Chang feel, as he states, “very hopeful for the future”.   

Chang spent last summer as a volunteer in a village on a small island in Papua, New Guinea, teaching sixth graders math, science, and English. Though it was a 4-mile trek to get water, Chang loved the experience and the opportunity to work with younger students.

 “I saw a big difference in them at the end of the summer, and it was so satisfying to help them get interested and improve in their subjects,” he says. “I feel that if one has much, then one has much to give. Being a native Hawaiian at Stanford, I feel that I have a responsibility to people and think it’s important to try to help others and give back to the community.”

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