October 21, 2009

The Home Team

Students on the Maine Track look forward to practicing medicine in their native state

By Bruce Morgan

An abiding love of neighborhood, town or region is a powerful motivation to hang near home in your professional life, as three Maine natives can attest. Chad Szylvian, Heather Bradford and Amanda Call are members of the inaugural class of the Maine Track program, a partnership between Tufts Medical School and Maine Medical Center in Portland aimed at encouraging more physicians to practice in this doctor-starved state.

Click the play button to hear two Maine students at Tufts School of Medicine talk about their experiences in the Maine Track program. Video by Kaitlin Provencher

Growing up the daughter of a grocer in Steep Falls, near Sebago Lake in western Maine, Call, M13, didn’t run into many doctors. Whenever she visited the nearby medical clinic in Cornish, she says, “it was always overcrowded, with a lot of impoverished people there.”

That lack of access to medical care is something she hopes to rectify by establishing a practice in Steep Falls—perhaps in obstetrics and gynecology. “There aren’t many women physicians in my area. I would love to practice in the community that I grew up in, and maybe someday have my own clinic,” says the 22-year-old Call, who completed her pre-med studies at the Maine College of Pharmacy.

“My goal is not to make a bunch of money,” she remarks, “but to have a stable practice back home.”

Bradford, M13, concurs. A native of Eddington, Maine, a small town on the Penobscot River 20 miles east of Bangor, she has seen firsthand the twin barriers to quality health care for area residents—first, the general scarcity of docs, and second, the inability of would-be patients to afford treatment.

“A lot of times they don’t have insurance or the finances even to shell out for a co-pay,” Bradford says of her fellow Mainers. Coming from a single-parent household on a lean budget, Bradford is grateful for the half-price tuition deal she has gotten from her enrollment in the Maine Track.

With any luck, that generosity will help guide her return home. “I can’t imagine going anywhere else,” she says.

Szylvian, M13, the son of an electrician, reflects a similar blend of gratitude and commitment. The salutatorian of his high school class, a member of the football team and a jazz pianist, he has spent time volunteering at Eastern Maine Medical Center near his home in Brewer. Four years at Boston College left him $146,000 in the hole. “Before the Maine Track program came along,” he says, “I was looking at $50,000-some a year for medical school on top of my other debt, so that half-tuition definitely helps.”

Because Maine has no allopathic medical school of its own, Szylvian notes that people in his shoes have no shot at an in-state tuition rate for their medical training. But he’s all set now. He intends to add a public health degree to his M.D. and return home to practice in a place where “it feels like you can breathe better,” he says.

This story first appeared in the fall 2009 issue of Tufts Medicine magazine.

Bruce Morgan can be reached at bruce.morgan@tufts.edu.

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