Associate Professor Ayers-Kawakami says transcultural communication and responsiveness are at the core of her work at the university. As director of the UH Hilo nursing program, she is focusing on advancing teaching and ensuring the success of the school’s diverse student body.
The director of the School of Nursing at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo says she will use her recently granted tenure to advance teaching and community collaboration of benefit to the local health care system.
Associate Professor Jeanette Ayers-Kawakami, an alumna of UH Hilo with a 20-year career as a practicing nurse in Hilo, has a wealth of experience and is particularly committed to ensuring that underserved communities have access to quality professional care. She says that along with her teaching, she will continue to work with the local community in finding solutions to ongoing healthcare concerns.
“To be here at UH Hilo, giving back to my community and to the university that made an incredible impact on my career, is a sentiment I don’t take lightly,” says Ayers-Kawakami while fondly recalling the moment she realized that with tenure comes a sense of permanence in her connection to the UH Hilo community.
“For me, tenure is more than just job stability, it’s knowing I met those standards. It’s an honor to have accomplished this but especially because I’m working at an institution that I hold dear to my heart and want to continue to work with through my retirement.”
Ayers-Kawakami says transcultural communication and responsiveness are at the core of her work at the university. As director of the nursing program, she is focusing on advancing teaching and ensuring the success of the diverse student body within UH Hilo’s three nursing education programs: bachelor of science in nursing, registered nurse to bachelor of science in nursing, and doctor of nursing practice, a doctoral degree at the highest level of nursing practice.
“Academic excellence is a fundamental value I feel deeply about, not only as a nurse, but as an educator,” she says. “Here in our small, more rural landscape, we need excellent faculty that can teach the next generation of nurses.”
Ayers-Kawakami says one of the things she’s focusing on is strengthening partnerships with local organizations that provide nursing students with real-life experience. This type of experiential learning builds skills in leadership, management, and community health delivery to clients with complex healthcare needs.
“I am thrilled to be a part of the educational efforts in working with our students on these collaborative projects to transform the future of healthcare for our community ‘ohanas,” she says.
The age of Covid
An area of deep concern to Ayers-Kawakami is the current pandemic coupled with nursing shortages.
“During this critical time in the current pandemic and with a nursing shortage still looming, it’s important that I continue the work to advocate for the nursing profession in our community to ensure our program is responsive to our local needs for healthcare providers.”
An example she cites of helping to meet these needs is the UH Hilo nursing school’s Waianae cohort, located on O‘ahu in a rural area, serving one of the highest Native Hawaiian populations in the state. This cohort, with many students who are first generation college students, has increased the nursing workforce in the area.
“By providing cohorts in Hilo and Waianae, the nursing school has been able to increase the nursing workforce in our communities,” she says.
Ayers-Kawakami’s statewide work includes the Parents and Children Together (PACT) program housed within Head Start. She serves as a member of the program’s health services advisory committee comprised of health professionals from local and state agencies who advise on community issues, policy decisions, public health outreach, and best practices in the health community.
She also belongs to the Hawai‘i Oral Health Coalition, a collaborative group of health professionals addressing oral health disparities through education prevention, increased access, medical-dental integration, workforce growth, and state level advocacy.
By Jordan Hemmerly, a marine science major at UH Hilo.