Student doctors on Maine Track

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NORWAY— Chad Szylvian, a Boston College biology graduate who is training to become a doctor in Boston, could be one of the young medical students for which Maine hospitals have been waiting.

Does he see a future as a doctor in Maine?

“Absolutely,” said the Brewer native. “I can’t wait to be in Maine long term.”

Szylvian, 23, is one of three Maine students who are studying part time at Stephens Memorial Hospital this month as part of their training at Tufts Medical School.

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“The supply of physicians has been dwindling,” said Dr. Bill Medd, a doctor at Stephens Memorial Hospital. He, along with Dr. Gregory Hardy, the community hospital coordinator, has been part of the committee that helped established the Norway hospital as the rural pilot site for the Tufts Medical School/Maine Medical Center training program.

The goal is to increase Maine’s retention of graduate physicians to as high as 75 percent. Maine is currently ranked 49th in the nation in the number of candidates applying for medical school.

“It’s very hard to recruit doctors,” Medd said. “Primary care gets paid the least. There is a large salary differentiation. Rural areas need more general doctors. Cities already have sub specialties. An area like this can’t sustain doctors who want one area. We’re looking for general doctors.”

Last year, there were as many as 150 open positions in Maine, Medd said. And the need for general physicians is perhaps the greatest.

“Maine Medical Center said we have to do something,” he said.

The problem lay, in part, in the lack of medical schools in Maine, the expense incurred by medical students who have seven or eight years of training and the low pay scale for doctors in Maine, Medd said. With the odds against Maine enticing many new doctors to the state, Maine Medical Center in Portland stepped up to the plate two years ago.

Partnering with Tufts Medical School in Boston, the two hospitals developed what they called a new model of medical education, which provides financial help to Maine students and a large part of their medical training in the state. The first group of students began classes in August.

Part of the program is the Maine Track, which is dedicated to rural and small-town practice and enables students to get firsthand experience in what it is like to live and practice in a rural community.

Stephens Memorial Hospital was selected as the rural practice site for the Maine Track students. Since then, Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington and Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick have joined as rural practice sites.

“We feel very strongly that we needed to participate in helping to train new medical students, new doctors,” Medd said. “We’re the first.”

The Maine Track program pays about half of the students’ costs each year, Stephens Memorial Hospital President and CEO Tim Churchill said. Additionally, the hospital will provide housing for students as they continue with the program, which Churchill said is extremely important for doctors to become a part of the overall community.

“We’ve committed $300,000 a year to housing and training,” Churchill said. “It’s an expense. It’s a time commitment.” He hopes the hospital will be able to fill three open primary doctor positions with students in the program.

“This is an investment,” he said. “It’s a win for the state if (students) come back (to practice).” Stephens has 40 doctors,  including three general surgeons, five family practitioners and three obstetrics/gynecology doctors.

Bobby Parisien, a Biddeford native who majored in pre-med at Brown University in Rhode Island but switched to economics when his college football schedule became too hectic, is one of the three medical students, along with Szylvian and Chris Anderson of Bar Harbor.

“It’s expensive,” Parisien said of the $73,000 he pays per year for Tufts Medical School. “This was a great opportunity. It gave me financial support and a chance to be back up here.”

Parisien, 29, has worked in the financial field for an engineering firm in New Delhi, India, and for an entertainment agency in Los Angeles.

“I looked ahead and at age 45 or 50 it’s not exactly what I wanted to be doing,” he said. So he came back East to reignite his medical career and got his orthopedic training at New York University.

Parisien isn’t sure he will end up in Maine once he becomes a doctor, but he said his time with the program has been invaluable.

“We know in Maine you take the time to get the best education,” he said.

Parisien, Szylvian and Anderson are expected to return in August as part of a nine-month rotation that will include more time in the Oxford Hills area.

“The potential for the state is huge if it works right,” Churchill said.

ldixon@sunjournal.com

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