STS News, Fall 2022 — Thoracic surgeon Taryne Imai, MD, is the recipient of the 2022 STS/ACS Health Policy Scholarship, an award that enables a member surgeon to attend the intensive course “Leadership Program in Health Policy Management” at Brandeis University’s Heller School in Waltham, Massachusetts.
With the award, sponsored jointly by STS and the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Imai took the next step in realizing her vision to elevate thoracic oncology care in her native Hawaii and the entire Pacific Basin.
"The learning experience was extraordinary and exactly what I needed to prepare me for my new leadership position," said Dr. Imai. "Setting an intention-to not just react, but to make a change, in one of the most disparate regions of the world-really resonated with me and drives my vision for Hawaii and the Pacific."
Hawaii currently ranks “at the bottom” for detection of early lung cancer, Dr. Imai said, and has one of the longest delays—8 to 10 weeks—from detection to treatment. In addition, exposures unique to the region, including radiation exposure from bomb testing and the effects of volcanic ash, leave Hawaiian residents at particular cancer risk. Dr. Imai, from the Queen's Health System in Honolulu, Hawaii, aims to tackle these challenges with the help of the skills she gained at the leadership course.
As director of the thoracic surgery program encompassing the state of Hawaii and the 14 countries in the Pacific Island Countries Network, Dr. Imai said that she feels confident in her clinical, education, and leadership experience, but that she perceived a gap in her foundational understanding of health policy. This is where the Health Policy Scholarship and the leadership course will prepare her for her colossal undertaking.
"In order to maximize impact, reaching as many patients as possible, our programs need to extend beyond the walls of the hospital institution," said Dr. Imai. "Partnering with our community non-profit groups, the Department of Health, and the State legislature to develop outreach programs will enable us to increase awareness and bring lung cancer care to everyone in the region."
The Pacific Basin needs screening and outreach programs that not only align with the cultural values of the region, but that also have a far reach, given its vast geography, said Dr. Imai. She also wants to expand the availability of robotic navigational bronchoscopy, which will increase access to biopsy. She envisions a system that, rather than requiring patients to fly multiple times to Honolulu for their lung cancer workups, allows them to undergo biopsy for suspicious nodules, mediastinal staging, and robotic resection under one round of anesthesia.
"Strategic thinking in developing programs within the challenging landscape of the Pacific is a skill that I needed to apply immediately," said Dr. Imai. "I am grateful for the scholarship and the opportunity to attend the course."
As a scholarship recipient, Dr. Imai will be appointed to serve a 3-year term on the STS Workforce on Health Policy, Reform, and Advocacy, starting in January 2023.
Applications for the 2023 scholarship will be accepted early next year. Applicants must be members of both STS and ACS and between the ages of 30 and 55. The Thoracic Surgery Foundation (TSF) also offers the Alley-Sheridan Scholarship, which partially covers the cost of attending the health policy course; these applications will open in early 2023 as well.
For more information, visit sts.org/healthpolicyscholarship. To learn about the Alley-Sheridan and other TSF scholarships, visit thoracicsurgeryfoundation.org/awards.