Out of the Classroom, Onto the Front Line

Students from The University of New England play a leading role in treating COVID-19 in Maine

University of New England
UNE’s Biddeford campus
UNE has campuses in Portland, Biddeford, and Morocco. Its Biddeford campus adjoins more than 4,000 feet of shoreline and a 363-acre forest.
Nearly 7,000 students are enrolled in UNE’s undergraduate and graduate degree programs on its campuses as well as online. UNE has Maine’s only physician assistant program and medical school and northern New England’s only dental school.
The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report have consistently ranked UNE as one of the country’s top colleges and universities.
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When Reed Norton became an emergency-room nurse last year, he was prepared to treat traumas ranging from heart attacks to car-crash injuries. He couldn’t have imagined that after a few months on the job, he’d be helping to battle a global pandemic, donning a wearable respirator akin to a hazmat suit, contending with a highly contagious airborne disease in a scenario that seemed straight out of a sci-fi film.

University of New England
2020 nursing grad Alex Hsu works with COVID-19 patients in NYC

“It’s surreal,” Norton says. Despite the stress of his work at Maine Medical Center, his resolve has never been stronger. “I want to help others when they need it most — that’s why I went into nursing.”

Norton is one of scores of UNE alumni serving on the front lines of coronavirus treatment in Maine. As the state’s largest educator of medical professionals — more than half of Maine’s osteopathic physicians graduated from UNE — the university is playing a leading role in fighting the coronavirus in the Pine Tree State and beyond. About half of its nursing graduates and more than one quarter of its health-professions alumni are licensed to practice in Maine, alleviating critical shortages of health-care workers and bringing new providers to the COVID-19 crisis.

University of New England
UNE doctoral students volunteer at a COVID testing site in Rhode Island

Some grads have sought out opportunities to treat COVID-19 patients, despite the risk of becoming sick themselves. In March, two months after getting his nursing degree from UNE, Alex Hsu took a position at a rehabilitation facility in the Bronx, New York where COVID-19 patients are recovering. “I feel lucky that I’m in a position to help people get better,” he says.

Other UNE students have played supporting roles. In New Hampshire, doctoral students from UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine assisted with research on personal protective equipment. In Rhode Island, students volunteered at a COVID-19 testing site. In Portland, doctoral student Laura Knapik rallied medical students to provide childcare for health-care workers. The organization she helped launch has so far donated 630 hours of care.

University of New England
2019 UNE grad Reed Norton treats COVID-19 patients at Maine Med’s ER in Portland.

UNE grads say that the school’s emphasis on interdisciplinary work has served them well during this crisis. In the classes and labs on UNE’s Portland and Biddeford campuses, through service learning, and on clinical rotations, students from different specialties work shoulder to shoulder, rather than only with students in their own specialties. This interprofessional approach has been proven to produce better patient outcomes. “The fact that UNE is home to so many health-profession programs gives our students so many opportunities to do that kind of teamwork,” says Karen Pardue, dean of UNE’s Westbrook College of Health Professions.

That experience has been critical, many alumni say, particularly since COVID-19 is not yet fully understood and diagnostic and treatment protocols are still evolving. “You have to understand how to work cohesively with so many other specialists every day,” says Suki Bischoff, an ER nurse at Maine Med who graduated from UNE in 2014. “Having that immersion in interdisciplinary teamwork in school has been a huge advantage.”

Visit une.edu to learn more.
University of New England