Addressing the Health Disparities of Maine’s Fishing and Lobstering Community

Over the next few months, Maine AHEC will continue its inaugural Maine AHEC Case Competition, a longitudinal learning experience for health professions students to develop interprofessional communication, leadership, analytical reasoning, conflict resolution, and critical thinking skills that they may not otherwise receive through their formal education and apply it to a complex population health case that focuses on systemic issues.  This year’s case competition addresses the health disparities of Maine’s fishing and lobstering communities through a vignette of a DownEast lobstermen, Steve B., who is battling a myriad of health challenges including a serious cardiac event. The groups of students are tasked with using critical thinking skills and evidence-based practice to develop the strategies on how to address the barriers to care for fishermen and lobstermen.

The Maine AHEC Case Competition is a six-month longitudinal learning experience starting in April and finishing in November.   In April, the case is provided to all second year Maine AHEC Scholars who are split into small interprofessional teams of four.  Each team then works on developing a case analysis presentation over six months and in November each team presents their case analysis to a panel of judges.  The team that is given the best score is recognized and awarded a prize.  Over the course of the six-month project, there are a number of structured events with guest speakers to share their lived experiences with the fishing and lobstering community.  The guest speakers this summer included Miranda Rodgers, MD, who grew up in a multi-generational lobstering community on Orr’s Island; Charles Rudelitch, Esq., who serves as Executive Director of the Sunrise County Economic Council; and Arabella Perez, LCSW, assistant professor at UNE who spoke about embracing a trauma-informed approach to health care.

In order for students to visualize the day to day operations of the fishing and lobstering community, participating AHEC Scholars were able to go on a lobster boat tour in Portland Harbor.  Rebecca Young, third year dental student at UNE’s College of Dental Medicine, is shown below with her teammates.  “This experience really brought to life some of the health disparities we have read about among this community,” says Young. “Speaking directly with people in the lobstering community allowed me to better understand the unique lifestyle, rigorous schedule, and burden of stress that comes along with lobstering. Understanding where these folks come from and what their background is may be the best first step in providing the best possible individualized health care” says Young. 

To develop the 2021 Maine AHEC Case Competition, Maine AHEC partnered with Holly Gartmayer DeYoung, the former director of Eastport Healthcare, in Eastport, ME.   “The case encourages students to take a systems approach for addressing the real life, complex healthcare issues that are faced by the lobstering community.  We were fortunate to partner with someone who spent a large portion of her career working in a fishing and lobstering community.” says Ian Imbert, MPH, Maine AHEC Scholar program manager. 

Maine AHEC is a HRSA funded workforce development program that focuses to alleviate health workforce shortages in rural areas.  In 2018 HRSA launched the national AHEC Scholar program to better prepare the next generation of healthcare providers to work with underserved communities.  In Maine, the Maine AHEC Care for the Underserved Pathway (CUP) Scholars program consists of 11 health professions programs across 3 universities.  Each Maine AHEC Scholar is accepted based on their preference to work with underserved communities and during their 2-year enrollment as an AHEC Scholar must complete a 160-hour structured curriculum focused on working with underserved populations.  The Maine AHEC Case Competition consists of 40 hours of learning in Year 2 of the AHEC Scholar program and was inspired by the national Clarion competition.  

Interested in participating in the Maine AHEC Scholars program? Contact Ian Imbert at