UNE students learn about rural healthcare in visit to Aroostook County

12 months ago

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — A group of six students from the University of New England recently visited Aroostook County as part of UNE’s Rural Health Immersion 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 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 Eastern Maine Medical Center.

“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 snowshoeing during past visits,” explains Menard. “I was particularly pleased that we were able to expose them to mental health and homelessness 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 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.