New opportunities for students with scholarships and new programs

UMaine Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences

By Ramona du Houx

October 19th, 2009

Governor Baldacci visits zebrafish facility at UMaine
Governor Baldacci visits zebrafish facility at UMaine
Last September Governor Baldacci was the guest of honor at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UMaine. The school gives students a unique opportunity to work with some of the world’s leading biomedical research institutions, which are located here in Maine.

In 2005 the governor outlined his initiative to establish the graduate school in his State of the State address, to increase Maine’s educational opportunities by building upon the strengths of established research facilities.

“Three years ago, I stood here to celebrate this bold step and its promise to better align our education system with Maine’s research and development strengths,” said Baldacci. “I am pleased to see the graduate students here today who are working toward their dreams and in turn will add to the capacity of the state to harness the promise of biomedical research.”

To date, the specialized school has enrolled 33 students, 22 from Maine.

The UMaine Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences pays each student’s classroom tuition and fees and a portion of their health insurance during each of the first two years. In addition it provides a yearly $23,000 stipend. After the second year, scientific grants, which are awarded to the researchers with whom they work, are used to pay to complete their education.

Students in the graduate school complete their first year on the UMaine campus, with research time spent at two or more, participating research institutions. In their second year, they decide where they want to continue their research. For example, there is Jackson Laboratory, the world’s leading mouse repository for research. Jackson Laboratory gene research has led to breakthroughs in cancer, diabetes, aids, and in other areas. Students who choose to specialize in mouse genetics would align themselves with Jackson Laboratory, working with individual scientists and participating in online graduate classrooms.

Baldacci said that the hands-on approach, working side by side with world-renowned scientists in their research facilities, is yielding results. “Not only are students able to pursue their graduate education here in Maine, they are advancing important scientific and medical knowledge. This is turn has a ripple effect, as Maine’s economy is stimulated by startup companies that are based upon the results of this important research,” he said.

The governor praised the work of Carol Kim, the director of the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“She’s doing a tremendous job. UMaine’s research studies zebrafish, whose genetic makeup is similar to humans. She told me students are looking into how the immune systems of the zebrafish identify and attack fungal organisms. It could lead to breakthroughs,” said Baldacci.

Those breakthroughs will increase Maine’s reputation as a leader in biomedical research.

“Continued investments in research and development help transform Maine’s economy with higher paying jobs,” said the governor.

The graduate school was formed as a collaboration among UMaine and seven other research sites in the state: the University of Southern Maine in Portland, the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Biddeford, The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Salisbury Cove, the Maine Medical Center Research Institute in Scarborough, and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems in Brewer.

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Students now have a chance to earn medical degrees- in Maine
New State scholarships will help increase primary care physicians

When challenges present themselves to the people of Maine, they often put aside differences and find ways to work together collaboratively, so that the state will benefit. Such is the case with the dramatic shortage of rural, primary care physicians.

First there is the problem of getting students to return to Maine after receiving an expensive medical degree in another state. Second, most first-year doctors have mountains of debt, and careers in rural areas don’t meet college loan payments. So finding a way to help students from Maine, who want to set up residencies in Maine, pay for their medical studies was needed.

To start, Maine Medical and Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston and the State of Maine have teamed up to fight statewide doctor shortages by offering all Maine based students half-tuition scholarships and world-quality medical degrees.

The new initiative prescribes that students will spend most of the first two years in Boston studying at Tufts’ main campus, before being placed in rural towns in Maine for clinical practice.

“We used some of the flexible funds we got through the Recovery Act stimulus package to invest in our medical education future. We are providing students half-tuition scholarships, along with private sources, to help Maine students pursue careers in medicine,” said Governor John Baldacci. “We’ll also be teaming the University of Maine with Vermont Medical and the University of New England in similar programs.”

Currently, there are more than 230 physician vacancies in Maine, and the only medical school in the state is at the University of New England, which offers an osteopathic degree.

“This will help rural areas receive more primary care physicians,” said Baldacci. “Research shows that doctors tend to settle near the hospitals where they complete their training. I know that, given the chance, young doctors will stay in Maine.”

By offering Maine students scholarships and the opportunity to study at world-renowned universities, while completing their educations in rural Maine, the State hopes to retain 75 percent of students as doctors after graduation.

“The need for rural physicians is not acceptable. We’re hoping we will see an increase in primary physicians with this collaboration,” said Richard Petersen, CEO of Maine Medical Center. “We’re excited to be a part of this project.”

Once students come to Maine, they will receive patient contact immediately, traveling around the state within the first two weeks to meet with doctors in rural locations. The new program will place students at 24 Maine rural hospitals from Sanford to Houlton and Farmington to Ellsworth.

Doctor shortages have led to serious health problems for many Maine citizens.
“We need communities to provide more access to routine wellness care. We have started a universal wellness program to provide healthcare information directly to people via the Internet and the Maine Healthy Partners network throughout the state. People have been rushing into emergency rooms, causing increases to insurance premiums, in some case, because there aren’t enough rural caregivers,” said the governor.

Maine’s lawmakers weighed in, helping the collaboration by passing An Act to Encourage Maine Residents to Attend Medical School and Practice in Maine. The law creates the Doctors for Maine’s Future Scholarship Program, which provides tuition scholarships for Maine residents to support their medical educations. Participating educational institutions in Maine are: the Maine Medical Center, Eastern Maine Medical Center, and the University of New England.

The tuition scholarship will cover half the cost of attendance annually, up to $25,000, for eligible students who enter qualifying Maine based medial school programs. The private medical community will provide matching funds.

“We’re hoping that with matching scholarship funds we will see an increase in primary physicians,” said Katie Fullam Harris of Maine Health. “This takes a huge step in allowing us to educate physicians to practice here. With a burgeoning elderly population we need this.”

There had been plans to build a medical university in Maine, but with the recession other solutions had to be found.

“With this collaboration we don’t have to build a new medical institution. We’re utilizing the experience and expertise that world-renowned educational institutes have as they work with the University of New England, EMMC and Maine Medical Center to offer degrees that will create more primary physicians,” said the governor. “With this scholarship fund, our young professionals won’t come out of college so indebted that they have to get high-paying jobs in other states to pay back the debt.”

The revolving scholarship fund will be administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.