The Maine Track MD Program, a program run in partnership between Tufts University School of Medicine (TUSM) and Maine Medical Center (MMC), saw its third cohort of students matched into residency programs on Match Day this year.
In an email to the Daily, TUSM Dean for Educational Affairs Scott Epstein said that the Maine Track program is for students with “close ties to the state of Maine, from those that were born and bred there to those who went to high school or college in Maine, or have a demonstrated interest in rural medicine.”
“Throughout the state of Maine, there’s a shortage of healthcare professionals,” Jo Linder, director of student affairs in MMC’s Department of Medical Education, said. She added that it is especially difficult to recruit doctors to practice in rural areas.
“Maine has one of the lowest rates of students going to medical school [even though] we have one of the highest rates of students that graduate from high school,” she noted. “This program was one way to encourage students from Maine to go to medical school.”
Epstein and Linder explained that the program begins with a two-week orientation in Maine, after which Maine Track students join other TUSM students in Boston. They spend most of their first two years on the Boston campus following the same curriculum, but they also take courses at MMC and complete their primary care preceptorships in Maine.
According to Epstein, students spend their third year entirely in Maine, either in traditional core clerkships or in a Longitudinal Integrated Clerkship — the latter of which has many rural sites — that immerses them in a community for nine months, while fourth-year students complete rotations in Maine that culminate in a week-long capstone experience.
Meg Curran, a student of the Maine Track program who is graduating this year, said that the program has a twofold purpose.
“One of them is to create a medical school program for people from Maine” she said, adding that this is the only allopathic medical school available in the state. “The other one — and they go hand in hand — is to provide students with exposure to the way rural medicine is practiced, and hopefully that gets students more interested in rural medicine.”
“The state of Maine becomes our entire campus,” Linder said, noting that students travel to many different areas and faculty come from all over the state.
Linder explained that in addition to TUSM’s fully-accredited program with defined objectives and competencies, Maine Track students study Maine data and learn about patient issues that are unique to the state.
“There’s some nuances that we provide in the Maine curriculum,” she said.
“I’m from Maine, I went to college in Maine, I intend to practice in Maine, and it’s really nice to be able to stay here for residency,” Curran said. She added that the majority of her third-year rotations were at MMC, allowing her to see what the culture and teaching experience was like there.
“It really led me to make a pretty informed decision about where I wanted to go for residency,” she said.
Curran emphasized the high-quality teaching she received through the program and the benefits of a small class.
“I feel like I got excellent teaching up in Maine,” she said. “I had a lot of [attending physicians] that were really involved in my education and were really excited about … the opportunity to mentor us. [That] as well as having such a tight-knit group of classmates is one of the biggest things that differentiates the Maine Track from other medical schools.”
According to Epstein, 71 percent of the graduating class has been matched to a primary care specialty — either internal medicine, family medicine or pediatrics — which is a higher percentage than there has been in previous years, he noted.
“Primary care providers are traditionally not paid as highly as specialists … so we’re always hopeful that students who want to do primary care will go into primary care and be happy in that area,” Linder said, adding that primary care physicians are especially needed with the push to have more U.S. citizens covered by the Affordable Care Act.
“The … success of the program will be measured by how many Maine Track graduates ultimately practice in Maine, and how many choose to care for underserved rural populations — that data will be available later in the decade,” Epstein said. “Survey data suggests that many of those who have chosen to do residencies outside of Maine intend to return to Maine for practice.
Of the 34 students in this year’s graduating class, 10 were matched to residency programs at MMC, according to Linder. This number includes Curran, who is also a Maine resident.
Over 50 percent of each year’s class has been matched to residencies in New England, Linder mentioned. She added that there are data showing that an overwhelming majority of doctors will practice near the site of their last training.
“Even though we have no graduates yet, we have had some faculty who have been hired to practice at some of these rural community hospitals [who] said that they’ve come because they have the opportunity to teach medical students,” Linder said. “That’s one side benefit that has happened, that the medical community has been energized by this program.”
She added that several students who are completing their residencies outside Maine have also expressed intentions to return and become involved with teaching in the Maine Track program.
According to Epstein, the Maine Track program’s seventh class, which will matriculate in August 2015, will have 40 students and make up 20 percent of the TUSM class. This is up from the approximately 36 students that were admitted in previous years, he said.
“In the future, we actually want to grow the program,” Linder said. “We hope to have a very long relationship with Tufts, and we look forward to having many alumni who practice in Maine — as well as in New England and throughout the United States — providing excellent care.”