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Kūlia I Ka Nuʻu: Nona Tamanaha at The Queen’s Medical Center – Building a Career by Taking Risks and Hard Work

Posted Tuesday, December 4, 2018 6:28 am

Nona Tamanaha, Vice President of Human Resources of The Queen’s Medical Center (“Queen’s”), sat down for an interview with Hawaii Employers Council.  In her role, she sets the strategy for human resources that supports the organization’s goals and she also establishes policies that support employee development so employees can have careers, not just jobs, with Queen’s.  In this article, Nona shared why she’s excited to work for Queen’s and why she believes working at Queen’s at this point in her career is like coming full circle.


Why did you choose HR as your career?

I have worked in HR for about 34 years.  Although I graduated from UH Manoa with a BBA in HR, I originally wanted to be a medical technologist because I enjoyed science and math.  However, as I started to take medical technologist classes, I learned that drawing and analyzing blood wasn’t for me. 

UH’s career counseling services tests revealed I would do well as a social worker, teacher, or psychologist.  None of those jobs, however, appealed to me and I became attracted to the business degree with an HR major. 

My first HR job was at McInerny as a personnel clerk and then the Assistant Director of HR.  I worked there for a couple of years and then worked at International Savings and Loan for less than a year.  I then worked at Moana Surfrider by supporting the Director of HR and Director of Training.  I was with Sheraton/Starwood for almost 27 years, working my way up to Regional Director of HR.  I had great opportunities to move up in the organization and stretch myself to say the least.


Why did you transition from Starwood to the healthcare industry? 

I always wanted to do something different for the last part of my career prior to retirement, and I wanted to work for a nonprofit organization so I could contribute in a small part to the community.

Working at Queen’s during, hopefully, the last part of my career is like coming full circle.  I graduated from St. Andrew’s Priory, a school founded by Queen Emma, and now I work for Queen’s Medical Center, an organization founded by Queen Emma and her husband King Kamehameha IV.  

It’s exciting to be part of Queen’s, an organization that is under transformation.  We are expanding ambulatory services (outpatient services) so that we can be more accessible to patients in the community.  This will offer primary care physician clinics in the community so people have the right care at the right place at the right time. 


What is the most rewarding part of your job?  

Queen’s is very mission driven.  Many of our employees are here to serve the mission.  That’s the why for them and for me.

The mission is to fulfill the intent of Queen Emma and King Kamehameha IV to provide in perpetuity quality healthcare services to improve the well-being of Native Hawaiians and all the people of Hawaii.

That is truly why people are here at Queen’s.  You feel it and you live it every day. 

Many of the values of Queen Emma, King Kamehameha IV, and Queen’s Medical Center align with my personal values.  The four values are expressed through the acronym, “CARE”: Compassion, Aloha, Respect, and Excellence.  It is part of who you are, how you behave, and how you provide care to patients.


How are the CARE values reinforced by the organization?

Newly hired employees attend a new hire orientation called Welina Mai.  Art Ushijima, CEO of Queen’s, speaks at Welina Mai and shares our mission, history, and founder’s legacy.  He shares the “why” we’re here – for our community and our patients.  Art also talks about patients first, the quality and care for our patients, and the role each of our employees play in that process. 

It is part of our culture that we’re building called, “The Queen Emma Way.”  Queen Emma was very kind, compassionate, and loving to her people.  She would come to the hospital to visit with the patients.  The Queen Emma Way, launched at the end of 2017, involves showing acts of kindness.  For instance, if you see someone that looks lost, you escort them or provide them with directions.  When you interact with people, you extend a helping hand when you can.


Please tell us about some career development programs at Queen’s.

We have two programs: (1) Queen’s University (Manager and Staff level) and (2) Queen’s Academy (Director and Senior leadership level).  Both offer an array of different courses that align with our core competencies.  Managers are required to complete several courses via the Queen’s University program and obtain their Alaka`i certification I and II.

Two years ago, we launched a program entitled Business Management for Clinical Managers.  We have had three (3) cohorts to date and the program has been well received.  Many clinical leaders started as RNs and worked their way up.  We provide them with a series of courses designed for clinical managers in which we emphasize the business side of the clinical unit, increasing business acumen.   All classes are taught in-house.  It’s good development for the subject matter experts as well as the cohort participants.


Who were your mentors and what have they taught you?

I’ve had many mentors and role models, and I am here today because of them. 

Kathy Novak, former Director of Human Resources at McInerny, was my first mentor.  In my last semester at UH, I worked part-time at McInerny as a personnel clerk and supported Kathy.  I continued working for her full-time after graduation.  And within six months, she suggested that I take a promotion to become Assistant Director of HR.  Despite my hesitation, she reassured me that I’d do well and that she’d support me.  That, in and of itself, was a boost of confidence.

Arlene Odagiri was my Director of HR at the Moana Surfrider when I started in hospitality and she taught me the value of leading by example, staying true to your values, doing the right thing and taking care of our employees.

Keith Vieira, former SVP and Director of Operations for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, advised me to take risks.  He said, “You have to be able to take risks because there’s so many possibilities out there.  That’s the way you’re going to learn and grow.”  Of course, you take calculated risks and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  But, you never know unless you try.  Although I’m super conservative, I believe he is right.  You stifle yourself by not taking risks in life.

I’ve had mentors who threw me in to projects and positions, and said, “You can do it.”  It was the sink or swim method.  It was a little scary and uncomfortable, but those mentors really exposed me to a lot of experiences. 

I’m where I am at today because of the people who took a chance on me and also because of the team that I worked with.  I couldn’t accomplish the things I did without a supportive and strong team I was blessed to have along my career.  I’ve always worked with good and talented people.


What is something that most people don’t know about you?

I grew up on a farm in Waimanalo.  That grounded me and shaped me into the person that I am.  My parents owned a small family-operated business.  My parents emphasized family, cooperation, hard work, good work ethic, and kindness to each other.  From the time I was five years old, I had chores like picking plumerias and vanda orchids. 


If you could write a letter to yourself when you were first starting your career, what would this letter say?

Listen and observe.  Always strive to do your best.  Set goals for yourself.  Learn from others.  Be open to new opportunities.  Be true to your values.  Enjoy the journey.


Do you have any words of wisdom for other HR professionals just beginning their careers?

Find your passion and aspire to reach your goals.  Don’t let anything stop you from achieving them.  You’re in control of what you can do.

I think sometimes we limit ourselves, but there really are no boundaries.  Be true to yourself and keep heading towards your north star.  Remember along your career to be humble, treat others how you want to be treated, be adaptable, build relationships and be courageous. Oh yes, and don’t forget to have fun!

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