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Getting Medical Care to the Mainers Who Need It Most

The University of New England’s interprofessional approach to education prepares students for the unique challenges of practicing in rural settings.

University of New England physician-assistant student Sarah Porter Pasquine
Sarah Porter Pasquine’s recent clinical rotation in Aroostook County confirmed her desire to work in underserved areas once she graduates. She is working towards her master’s degree as a physician assistant. UNE has the only master’s program for PAs in Maine.
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Photographs courtesy of the University of New England

During her rotation at a family practice in the Aroostook County town of Sherman, physician-assistant student Sarah Porter Pasquine got a crash course in treating a dizzying array of ailments, from dog bites to dental emergencies to the mystery malady of a 75-year-old patient who hadn’t had an exam in 35 years.

But the most enduring lesson she learned came from seeing the profound impact a medical professional can make in a community. In an area 30 miles from a hospital or dentist, the local family doctor she worked with provided a lifeline.

“People knew they had someone who would help however they could,” says Pasquine, who is studying to get her master’s degree as a physician assistant from the University of New England. Her experience in clinical rotations only confirmed her desire to help those living in underserved areas. “I know that I want to work with people who need help the most and have the least resources,” she says.

The country needs more students like Pasquine — it faces a shortage of up to 139,000 physicians by 2033, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, and physician assistants can help fill the void. The situation is even more acute in Maine, the oldest state in the nation, with one of the oldest health-care workforces.

This spring, testifying in a Senate hearing on the crisis, at the request of senators Bernie Sanders and Susan Collins, UNE president James Herbert urged government officials and colleagues in academia to push recent grads to practice where they’re most needed. Each semester, more than half of UNE’s health professions students do clinical rotations in underserved areas, and the university offers a bevy of financial incentives for students to work in those areas after graduation.

UNE president James Herbert in Washington, DC, with Susan Collins and Bernie Sanders
UNE president James Herbert in Washington, DC, with Susan Collins and Bernie Sanders.

What’s more, the school’s interprofessional approach to education prepares students for the unique challenges of practicing in rural settings. Students from different health-professions programs learn to collaborate on UNE’s Biddeford and Portland campuses, an approach that has been proven to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction, says Sally McCormack Tutt, interim dean of UNE’s Westbrook College of Health Professions.

What’s more, Tutt says, it teaches students to take a holistic approach to patient care and helps them identify what other health-care providers may be needed to improve patient outcomes.

During his rotation in the Washington County town of Harrington, dental student Sean Pierel found that a huge part of what’s needed is compassion. Many patients he has seen hadn’t consistently received routine preventative care because of bad experiences with dentists in the past.

To ease their worry, Pierel focuses on providing a positive experience that motivates patients to come back and empowers them to take charge of their care. “I’ve loved helping patients understand that they can create a healthier future for themselves,” he says, “That has been really rewarding.”

UNE is Maine’s only medical school and the largest provider of health professionals in the state.

By the Numbers

60%

of UNE grads do clinical rotations in underserved areas in Maine

40%

of UNE medical- and dental-school
graduates who
practice in Maine work in underserved areas

12th

UNE’s national rank for percentage of graduates practicing in rural areas

Learn more at une.edu