Tyler Gagnon, (CDM)
We started this morning off at the beginning (or end depending on who you ask) of US Route 1. We were lucky enough to be joined for breakfast by long time legislators, and rural health advocates, Judy Paradis and John Martin. Listening to them talk about their experiences in regards to public health in their communities was pretty eye opening. They both really cared about what happens in the area that the represent, not only professionally, but personally. That personal tie really shows you what a caring, family-like community Aroostook County really is.
From breakfast we went to check out federally qualified health center (FQHC) facilities in Fort Kent and Eagle Lake. Heather Pelletier, CEO of Fish River Rural Health, graciously gave us tours of medical and dental clinics in Fort Kent. At the dental clinic, it was great for me (a dental student) to get an inside look at an FQHC clinic and how things tend to work. At the clinic in Eagle Lake it was awesome to see a truly interprofessional clinic setting between doctors, dentists, and their supporting teams. The providers are literally right down the hall from each other and are in constant communication. Getting a look into these dental clinics was a great sneak peak into places that could potentially end up as externship sites, and places I could practice.
Today was a day that was enlightening from a legislative, social and clinical standpoint. On the clinical front I was able to speak with Heather one-on-one about FQHCs to get a handle on the way they were run and the benefits of providing care at them. I was really grateful to get insight into John and Judy’s perspectives not only as legislators, but as inhabitants of the county. I feel as though their passion is the same flame that burns brightly in the majority of this county’s proud people.
Jhoana Meza, (Pharmacy)
Today marked our last day in Aroostook County, in the span of a week we have traveled to Presque Isle, Madawaska, Van Buren, and Fort Kent being exposed to different types of rural health care. For example, today we were exposed to a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), which are health centers that qualify for enhanced reimbursements from Medicaid and Medicare due to providing care in underserved areas. The FQHC we were exposed to technically counts as one FQHC, however it was composed of three different medical centers spread out across 20 miles along the Fish River. We visited the Fort Kent Health Center, Fort Kent Dental Center, and the Eagle Lake Health Center. The Dental Center was very surprising as they only have one Dentist but cared for over six thousand patients. Even though he has several dental hygienists along with a couple EFDAs (Expanded Functions Dental Assistants) who all come together to provide care for their patients, it is clear that the ratio of providers to patients is astonishingly low. This experience served as an eye-opening moment about the providers and health care professionals counties like this one are in dire need of.
This adventure in rural medicine allowed me the opportunity to meet fellow students from other medical professions and make new lifelong friends. From sharing our personal backgrounds and stories around a campfire to relentlessly looking for our first sighting of a moose (which we finally saw though not on the moose hike itself but on route 11), these bonds and friendships we made not only benefit ourselves both personally and professionally, but our future patients as well. This pilot program served as an invaluable experience in exposure to rural medicine and just how important an interprofessional medical team really is.
Ellen Clark, (COM)
This morning our interprofessional team concluded our trip to Aroostook County with a morning discussion with two politicians, followed by tours of Federally Qualified Health Centers in the Fort Kent area. As I listened to the politicians explain the progress and changes they have seen in the communities of Maine I felt very impressed to hear about the development and future directions to improve behavioral, psychiatric, and dental health care in the county.
I also enjoyed learning about the integration of care in the Fish River Rural Health center, where the goal is to have medical, dental, and vision care all located in one campus of buildings. By having these services in proximity to one another, this will hopefully have a positive impact on health care efficiency and quality. In this area, we also met a dentist and I was amazed to learn the huge magnitude of his active patient load. He was an inspiration to me as he demonstrated his personal investment in the health and wellbeing of the community.
It has been an honor to be a member of the team participating in the Rural Health Intensive program in Aroostook County. My experiences interacting with the community with my fellow students of osteopathic medicine, dental medicine and pharmacy has reinforced my desire to become a clinician who is actively connected with my community. I am so grateful for the knowledge and experiences I have gained exploring rural health in Aroostook County, Maine.