UNE Students Share Experiences on their Last Day of the 2018 Piscataquis County Rural Health Immersion

The students and faculty pose for a photo after teaching their lessons to students at Greenville School.

The students and faculty pose for a photo after teaching their lessons to students at Greenville School.

Ten UNE health professions students recently participated in a weeklong rural health immersion to Piscataquis County in Maine.  The immersion experience is a part of a pipeline program with Maine’s Area Health Education Center (AHEC) program and UNE’s Center for Excellence in Health Innovation (CEHI) to address healthcare provider shortages in rural Maine.  This is the fifth immersion experience that the Maine AHEC and CEHI have provided for UNE students but the first time that a group has traveled to the Penquis area.  Last Fall a group of 10 students traveled to Oxford County and Carroll County in New Hampshire for a long weekend immersion; in May of 2017 a group of 13 medical, pharmacy, dental, and nursing students traveled to Maine’s midcoast region of Knox and Waldo Counties for a weeklong immersion; in March of 2017 medical and nursing students participated in a weeklong immersion in Franklin County; and in May of 2016 a group of 15 medical, pharmacy, and dental students participated in a weeklong immersion in Aroostook County.  Throughout the immersion the students are purposefully split into interprofessional teams so that they can learn the roles and how to communicate effectively with other disciplines in order to learn the skills necessary to provide high quality team-based care and improve patient outcomes.  The students experienced a variety of clinical, community, and population health activities in rural and underserved communities in central Maine communities, including Newport, Dover-Foxcroft, and Greenville.  The group was also supposed to visit Eastern Maine Medical Center and Penobscot Community Health Care but due to a Nor’easter the first two days of the trip in Penobscot County were canceled.  Below are reflections from one team after the last day of the trip on Friday, March 16th, 2018.

Mooshead Lake as seen from the Kineo View Lodge

Mooshead Lake as seen from the Kineo View Lodge

Taxia Arabatzis, First year Osteopathic Medicine Student

Dynamic and innovative are some of the words that come to mind when I think about the health care providers we have come across over the past few days in the UNE Maine Rural Health Immersion trip to Piscatquis county. The providers ranged from school nurses to hospital doctors to administrative staff in the clinics and hospitals, and all were very dynamic and innovative. Being in rural areas these providers are limited in almost every way, yet, through strong dedication they are able to make it work.

In rural communities everyone knows everyone, so the local providers are ingrained in the community and they know the needs of the people. Therefore, rural providers are able to directly meet the needs of the people by doing things like delivering extra educational classes at their hospitals, or starting programs to combat substance abuse, or any number of other initiatives to help their community. One thing in particular that I noticed at every facility that we went to was that the staff always mentioned that Fridays were Jeans days for the employees and the money they raised from this was ALWAYS put right back into the direct needs of their community. At one hospital in particular they said the money went towards a food pantry that they could send their patients to if they screened positive for food insecurity (unfortunately a common occurrence in parts of rural Maine). The providers started the food pantry because they felt terrible asking patients about their access to food before the food bank was started since, at that time, they didn’t have a solution to the problem. This is a simple example, but it shows how the providers in rural Maine are truly dynamic and problem solvers. It was clear that the providers we met with understand the needs of their patients in an intimate way that is often hard to find in an urban setting, and that they do everything they can to address their patients needs.

After visiting at the Greenville School the students spent time at Dean Memorial Hospital.

After visiting at the Greenville School the students spent time at Dean Memorial Hospital talking about rural health with the local providers.

Despite the tremendous needs of the rural communities that we visited, they are ahead of the game and innovative in their approach to determining the needs of their community and directly addressing them.  It can be very daunting to look at the health needs of a patient, including physical, social, emotional, and socio-economical health factors and try to address them all. However, in the rural communities health providers are used to this, and they are used to fighting for their patients, who are their neighbors and community members, and that is a lesson that all of modern medicine can learn from.

The last stop of the trip was in Shirley at Lone Wolf Guiding Services where the students learned about dog sledding.

The last stop of the trip was in Shirley at Lone Wolf Guiding Services where the students learned about dog sledding.

Matthew Senno, First year Osteopathic Medicine Student

Meeting with the kids at the Greenville School this morning was such a great experience. I loved interacting with a group of students that is still learning, and it is a great opportunity to improve all of our teaching abilities. It’s always great to spread awareness about brain injuries, and how the brain works in general, especially to children in the 4th grade, who are riding their bikes and playing outside, so have a lot to learn of the proper safety equipment. I was surprised at how much some of the kids knew about the brain already and I was blown away by some of their questions (many of which I didn’t have an answer to). The school nurse was amazing as well. She seemed so dedicated to her job, and to helping all of the kids in the school.

After we left the school, I really enjoyed meeting with Dr. Galen Durose at Dean Memorial Hospital in Greenville. It was interesting to hear how he alone had to run the ED, and how he could be one of the only physicians in the entire hospital. This was eye opening because previously I didn’t fully understand the extent of the lack of providers in such a rural area, and all of the extra work that these health care providers have to do for great patient care, and how willing they are to do it. That seemed to be the overall theme of this trip- that there is a lack of providers, but all of the practicing providers in these areas are willing and happy to work so hard in order to better the health of their patients. This is an encouraging thought for myself as a future physician, knowing that there are currently providers like this that I can look up to, and contact for any advice in my coming years.

One last group photo before heading back to Portland.

One last group photo before heading back to Portland.

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