RHI Bonanza!

Maine AHEC Centers geared up for a busy season of hosting RHIs for CUP AHEC Scholars. Read all of the excitement from each center below!

Northern Maine AHEC Center

The Northern Maine AHEC Center hosted a group of six students from the University of New England recently in Aroostook County as part of UNE’s Rural Health Immersion (RHI) program, which is designed to increase student interest in rural health and expand clinical learning opportunities in rural communities with healthcare provider shortages.

The RHI program was developed by UNE in 2016 and piloted that year in Aroostook County through a collaboration with the Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) and Northern Maine Community College, which operated the AHEC program in northern Maine at that time. 

Northern Light AR Gould Hospital has had a strong history with this program, providing tours, connecting students with providers, and leading excursions to showcase activities that exemplify the quality of life in our region. AR Gould staff and providers stepped up to the role once again this year, as the RHI program was offered for the first time since COVID put a halt to such activities in 2020.

The UNE students were in Aroostook County from Wednesday, May 17 to Friday, May 19. Their visit was coordinated by Linda Menard and Dawn Roberts from AR Gould Hospital, as well as Sarah Dyment from EMMC. 

“The goal during these visits is to show them what the quality of life is like living in northern Maine. We went hiking this time, but we have also gone kayaking and snow shoeing during past visits,” explains Menard. “I was particularly pleased that we were able to expose them to mental health and homelessness during this time around, as those are issues which they will experience no matter where they choose to live and work after they begin their medical careers.”

The students toured AR Gould, the Aroostook House of Comfort, ACAP, AMHC, and the Sister Mary O’Donnell Homeless Shelter. Four of the students took part in an Airway Lab intubation class with Dr. Peter Goth, while two were placed in job shadow experiences – one in Rehabilitation Services and one in Surgical Services.

The first night of their stay the group had the chance to dine with a few providers and local leaders. This was a great opportunity to talk learn more about living and working in a rural area such as ours. The students were also led on a short hiking trip during their visit.

“We kept them busy while they were here, but the students seemed very happy with their experiences,” says Roberts. “More than one said they wished they could stay longer to explore the area because they thought it was so beautiful.”

In September 2022, the northern area of AHEC transitioned from NMCC to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center. AHEC introduces current healthcare workers to new continuing education trainings, provides high school students the opportunity to learn more about the healthcare field in hopes they may choose healthcare for a career in the future, and works with current healthcare students to introduce them to areas of the state that are rural or medically underserved, as is the case with this UNE collaboration.

Western Maine AHEC Center

The Western Maine AHEC Center had its RHI in Farmington, Maine. Students had a welcome breakfast with Franklin memorial Hospital Leadership discussing hardships and rewards to living and working in the area as part of a rural medicine and underserved community. Student then supported the Healthy Community Coalition with the food as medicine program stocking our food pantry, and building a fence for our community garden. Students then when to the Lovely Idea Company for a 1/2 retreat on mental health and wellness. We ended our first day with joining Dr. Ross Isacke and Dr. John Daggett our Executive Leadership for dinner.

The students then had a day filled with job shadows and dinner with Dr. Jodi Conrad our Emergency Director. We ended our trip with exploring downtown farmongton meeting with different local business and lunch with the Senior Directors from Health Community Coalition to discuss various areas of social determinants of health in which our community is offering services.

Eastern Maine AHEC Center

The Eastern Maine AHEC Center recently hosted a Rural Health Immersion for medical students from the University of New England College of Medicine and Tufts University School of Medicine, who are part of the Maine Track program. The immersion took place in Washington County, a geographically large and very rural county in the northeastern part of Maine. 

Students spent two nights at Bear Lodge and Cabins at Indian Township Reservation (Motahkmikuk), where they met with Passamaquoddy citizens and elected leaders to learn about the community and attend a “Strengthening Relationships with Cultural Competency: Increasing Understanding of the Passamaquoddy Tribe” training, along with over 40 other participants. They also visited the Passamaquoddy Health Center for a tour and overview of services, which included primary care, a dental clinic, behavioral health services, and outpatient pharmacy, among other services. 

After leaving Indian Township, students traveled to Calais, the largest city in Washington County, with a population of just over 3,000. Student experienced a day of meetings with several community and health providers, including tours and service overviews at: Calais Community Hospital, a 25-bed critical access hospital; AMHC, a behavioral healthcare provider offering an array of mental health, substance use, crisis, sexual assault, and prevention services; the Calais Recovery Support Center, which provides peer-based support services including mentoring, education, and resource provision; and Sunrise County Economic Council, an organization that initiates and facilitates the creation of jobs and prosperity in Washington County. 

From Calais, students traveled an hour to Machias, a town with a population just over 2,000. They met with representatives from the Washington County Jail and Healthy Acadia to learn about an innovative community garden program that will engage jail and prison residents, members of the recovery community, agriculture educators, and other community members in growing food for the jail’s kitchen as well as for donation to local food assistance programs. Students also toured Safe Harbor, a recovery home for women and children, and Downeast Community Partners, an organization committed to creating and delivering a wide array of services and programs to improve the quality of life and reduce the impact of poverty in Downeast communities. Students also visited with a panel of providers at Eastport Health Care’s Machias location, to continue their learning the unique challenges and opportunities of rural health care.

During their 3-day immersion, the students experienced a wide range of communities, populations, health care providers and community partners, and got an in-depth look of what it’s like to live and work in this rural region of Maine. A common theme was the lack of health care providers and difficulty that employers have recruiting them to these rural communities; many providers encouraged the students to return after receiving their degrees. One student remarked, “I’ve never gotten so many job offers!” Additional themes were the importance of establishing trusting relationships with patients and understanding how closely connected everyone is in rural communities. We are grateful to the many health and service providers and community members who welcomed the students and openly shared their time and expertise to create an incredible learning opportunity.