SONNET Newsletter Winter 2023

Get to know Maile Tauali‘i: Mother, farmer, community leader, and social health researcherMaile-Taualii_187x187.jpg

Maile Tauali'i, PhD, MPH, is a mom of 6 teens, a hula practitioner, and a farmer who runs a 20-acre food forest farm with her family on the island of Oahu. She is a former professor, a mentor, and a student of traditional medicine with deep ties to her community. She is also a clinical investigator at KP’s Center for Integrated Health Care Research in Hawaii and a valued member of SONNET’s Evaluation and Research Committee (ERC).

Maile’s unique perspective as a social health researcher is helping advance SONNET’s work to understand how KP members want to communicate with their care teams about social needs. She is also collaborating with fellow ERC member Nancy Weinfield, PhD, to learn about challenges families face with nutrition security and culturally relevant ways to improve household nutrition.

We talked with Maile about how her work is deeply connected to her commitment to serving her community and what advice she would offer to researchers interested in social health. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation.

What excites you most about your SONNET work?
MT: What excites me most is the immediacy of benefit. Before I worked for KP, I was a professor. I loved teaching, but the impact of the work was a long game. I knew my students were destined for greatness, but it would take some time before their efforts resulted in transformation in the community. Here at KP we have the perfect combination of research, providers, health care, community, and a profound determination to make things better.

I am very fortunate to work under the guidance and support of Dr. Stacey Honda, KP’s assistant medical director of research in Hawaii and medical director of our Center for Integrated Health Care Research. Dr. Honda made me aware of SONNET and the opportunity to be part of the ERC. After I learned how my interests and goals were aligned with SONNET’s, I was all in. SONNET connects all the things I love: social health, research, evaluation, quality improvement, health care, and people. And the SONNET team is incredible. They remove barriers and expedite the possibility of making a difference — through funding, facilitation, training, coordination, communication, networking, and more.

I tell people that if their health care provider isn’t also a top-notch research institution, then move to Kaiser. SONNET is the icing on the cake (if cake were integrated medicine).

Hula blessing at KP Oahu clnic

Hula blessing at Kipukaoha, KP's West Oahu Clinic

What are some of your favorite activities outside of work?
MT: For me, the lines between what’s work and what’s personal are blurred. My family, our farm, and our community are what drives me and inspires me in my work. A classic example of this overlap was the opening of an art exhibit at our KP West Oahu clinic, Kipukaoha. The art exhibit was being blessed by the Hula Halau that I dance for, the artist was my second-to-youngest daughter, my graduate students were present to provide support, and members of my traditional healing school attended. And the gardens around the clinic are filled with plants from the farm that I live and work on. This is community, and this is what makes all the hard work worth it.

What advice would you give to researchers who want to focus on social health?
MT: I would say to make it your life’s work. I think people who are drawn to social health research are those who can directly relate to what it feels like to have unmet social needs or the impact of social health inequities. As an Indigenous researcher, I can personally relate to the impact of poverty, abuse, homelessness, and racism. But the work is healing, and I feel so fortunate to collaborate with people at KP like my SONNET team members — because they all love this work and they get the “why” behind it. We are taught in graduate school to diminish the biases that come from our personal experiences. But our lived experience help us better understand the world we live in. So I say, embrace it — and don’t be afraid to let your personal experience inspire you to make things better.

Learn more about Maile and her work to serve her community and KP members in Hawaii:

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