PORTLAND – This May will bring a new era in patient care in Maine.

The University of New England, an innovative health sciences university grounded in the liberal arts, will graduate its first class of students completing their pharmacy studies.

The Class of 2013 is composed of 30 percent students from Maine and 50 percent from New England.

Many of these students will be staying and providing patient care through their role as pharmacists in community pharmacies, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Other students in this class from outside Maine have now decided to pursue their careers by accepting pharmacy positions in our state.

The Class of 2013 has already provided over 80,000 hours of supervised care through their introductory pharmacy practice and advanced pharmacy practice experiences to patients in Maine and beyond.

Our students in this class are innovative and creative leaders and entrepreneurs. They have started new professional and fraternal service organizations, raised $1,800 for the Make A Wish Foundation and taken key leadership roles in coordinating drug take-back programs in and around the greater Portland area, to name just a few of their many achievements.

These successes could not have been possible without the faculty and staff members who have taught, mentored and guided these students. Faculty members in the College of Pharmacy have been instrumental in working with state legislators to advance key initiatives to promote public health and wellness, such as the role of pharmacists as immunizers, in providing medication therapy management and in working toward collaborative drug therapy management options in Maine.

Pharmacists working closely with other members of a patient-centered health care team play a role in the three key elements we are striving for in the contemporary health care environment, specifically to improve patient care outcomes, increase patient access to health care and reduce health care costs.

The University of New England College of Pharmacy created and hired over 50 positions with new faculty members, staff members and research technicians who have moved with their families and now call Maine their home.

My husband and I have found living in Maine a wonderful opportunity both professionally and personally. We look forward to being able to continue to serve and contribute to Maine’s growth and prosperity in many areas and as opportunities become available.

The University of New England is committed to its role in providing outstanding health care practitioners for Maine.

UNE has provided over $1 million in scholarships to support this first group of pharmacy students since they started in the Doctor of Pharmacy Program in 2009.

The College of Pharmacy is only one part of the University of New England whose economic impact in Maine now stands at $738 million.

The university and the college have been able to lay a strong foundation in developing research in the biomedical, pharmaceutical, social and administrative sciences, with our relatively new faculty having already received funding from national and local funding agencies and reaching out to local companies in the biomedical and biotechnology industry.

The University also has the resources to help stimulate economic growth through core research facilities and training located in the College’s building on Stevens Avenue.

The various academic programs on UNE’s Portland campus, specifically the Westbrook College of Health Professions, the College of Pharmacy and the College of Dental Medicine, welcome opportunities to work with our local Stevens Avenue community, the greater Cumberland and York counties and the state of Maine.

We know the value of providing outstanding care for patients in Cumberland and York county as well as the other 14 counties, particularly rural care throughout Maine.

The College of Pharmacy is excited and proud to graduate this first group of future pharmacists in May. These graduating student pharmacists embody the same outstanding characteristics of the other health care professionals that have been educated and graduated from the College of Osteopathic Medicine and the Westbrook College of Health Professions.

Our Doctor of Pharmacy program has focused on educating pharmacists that employers will want on their team. Furthermore, we have worked to educate pharmacists that will be an important health care provider for you and your family.

I believe it is truly exciting that these future pharmacists are now and in the future educated in Maine at the University of New England.

Gayle A. Brazeau, Ph.D., is professor and dean of the University of New England’s College of Pharmacy.