NORTH HAVEN — The beginning of August kicked off a three year deadline for Quinnipiac University’s medical school.
Their mission: to create a family medicine residency program at Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent, Maine. In order to help them achieve their goal, the school was awarded a $750,000 federal grant.
While they are still in the early days of development, Dr. Traci Marquis-Eydman, the Quinnipiac professor spearheading this program, is already thinking about where the money needs to go.
“Medicine and education are very expensive businesses so we have to make sure everyone remains in a comfortable financial place,” she said. “We have to think about construction. We need an actual spot to put residents. You have to think about teaching faculty, all the rules and regulations that come with the grant and residency certification.”
The idea for this program came to Dr. Marquis-Eydman only three months after she had joined the Quinnipiac staff back in 2016.
“I went to an Association of American Colleges meeting and Atul Gawande speak. Amongst docs, he’s a legend,” said Marquis-Eydman. “As a general surgeon he speaks of the importance of primary care and he speaks of the inequities in healthcare access.”
Dr. Marquis-Eydman said that Dr. Gawande revealed that the U.S. was making headway in terms of increasing life expectancy in all but one demographic: rural America.
In a study published in January in the American Journal of Public Health, it was concluded that “the rural-urban mortality disparity was persistent, growing, and large when compared to other place based disparities.” This was particularly true in high-poverty rural areas where life expectancy penalties “rivaled the effects of education and exceeded the effects of race by 2016.”
“When he said that rural America was actually going the opposite way as the rest of America it just struck me to my core,” said Dr. Marquis-Eydman. “So I turned to my colleague and said ‘Why don’t we start a longitudinal, third-year experience for our students where they immerse themselves in the culture and the people,’.”
And that’s exactly what she did.
The program for third-year students lead to the development of another program for fourth-year students before they finally applied for the Rural Residency Planning and Development Program grant. Quinnipiac was one of 27 schools to receive a small portion of the entire $20 million available.
The idea for establishing the program at Fort Kent came from Dr. Marquis-Eydman’s own personal connection with the town: it was where she grew up.
“It’s a nice melding of my personal life and my professional life that this has come to be. It’s going to be helping my community and helping my school,” she said.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town of Fort Kent has a population of less than 4,000. Additionally, Aroostook County, where Fort Kent is located, has a reported poverty rate of 17.6% as of 2018. That’s over the national average of 12.3%.
But Fort Kent is only one piece of Quinnipiac’s residency program in development. Dr. Marquis-Eydman said they were also reaching out to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport. The goal is to have residents complete one year of urban residency and then another two of rural residency.
“We had a commitment to train as many primary care physicians as possible,” said Dr. Bruce Koeppen, dean of the school of medicine. “This program fits very well with our mission statement and will improve the health and well being of the people in the Fort Kent community.”
Both Dr. Marquis-Eydman and Dr. Koeppen also said that they hope the program in Fort Kent will cause more residents to stay in the Fort Kent community and practice there. According to a report from the AAMC, 51% of residents end up practicing in states where they complete their residency program.
“It’s great for the community, the town itself, it’s energy. It’s more people coming in and bringing their families and maybe those families will stay and keep the town healthy and running,” said Dr. Marquis-Eydman. “For me I don’t really see a downside. It’s just getting from A to Z that’s the work.”