Refugee and Immigrant Youth Explore Careers in Healthcare with Maine AHEC Network

Students from the New Mainers Public Health Initiative attend a class at the University of New England.

Students from the New Mainers Public Health Initiative attend a class at the University of New England.


This fall the Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Network partnered with several programs at the University of New England to bring 20 high school students from the New Mainers Public Health Initiative (NMPHI) to visit UNE’s Biddeford and Portland campuses.  In an effort to increase the diversity of Maine’s healthcare workforce, Maine AHEC Network has collaborated with NMPHI to expose high school students who are the children of immigrants and refugees to healthcare careers. Karen O’Rourke, M.P.H., director of the Maine AHEC Network explained, “Many immigrant and refugee parents are unfamiliar with the educational system in the U.S. and many did not attend colleges themselves, so it’s important for us to create an avenue for these students to explore the education and career opportunities that are available to them, and become more comfortable with the application process and college environment.”

NMPHI is a health related, ethnic-based organization serving the needs of immigrant and refugee youth and their families. Their goal is to empower, inform and educate new Mainers in order to decrease health disparities. The UNE visit was part of NMPHI’s pilot program, Promoting Careers in Healthcare for Immigrant Youth, funded by the Maine AHEC Network, which targets juniors and seniors in high school in the Lewiston/Auburn area of Maine and does the following: involves students and parents in the process of entering the healthcare field; provides mentorship for students and encourages them to enter healthcare fields; provides access to job shadows at local hospitals and pharmacies; involves the elders as the community leaders to discuss the value of education; and facilitates student tours of local universities and connects them with academic advisers.

While visiting UNE, the students received a presentation from Undergraduate Admissions and toured both campuses, including a tour of UNE’s Oral Health Center. They learned about careers in the nutrition field from SNAP-Ed senior nutrition program coordinator and Nutrition Program faculty Anne-Marie Davee, M.S., R.D., L.D., and about careers as physician assistants from Joe Wolfberg, M.S., adjunct professor in the Physician Assistant Program. Faculty and students from the College of Pharmacy created an experiential learning activity that allowed the students to try their hands at creating a simulated medical compound. After the visit, one student shared, “It is very inspirational to hear [student and faculty] success stories. I also like the hands-on things because it gives deeper insight into the career field.”

Following the positive feedback from the first tour, NMPHI’s Executive Director, Abdulkerim Said, B.A.S., B.H.P., C.H.W. worked with Maine AHEC Network, and UNE’s College of Pharmacy to arrange a visit by pharmacy faculty to the NMPHI office in Lewiston. There, pharmacy faculty spoke with high school juniors and seniors about careers in pharmacy and explained the admissions process for the UNE program. Maine AHEC Network is excited to continue working with NMPHI to continue to offer programming in healthcare career exploration. “These types of programs are so crucial,” says Zoe Hull, M.P.H., program manager for Maine AHEC Network who helped organize the event, “not only because we have a dwindling healthcare workforce in Maine, but also because we can’t expect to meet the needs of all Mainers if our healthcare workforce doesn’t reflect the increasing diversity of our state.”

The Maine AHEC Network is part of UNE’s Center for Excellence in Health Innovation. Its mission is to alleviate health workforce shortages in rural and underserved areas of the state. AHEC supports that effort by working with academic and community partners to 1) provide rural, community-based clinical training experiences for medical and other health professions students; 2) encourage Maine youth and mid-career professionals to explore health careers; and 3) support practicing health professionals with continuing education and distance learning opportunities.

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