Miranda Rogers has seen firsthand the ailments affecting people who work in Maine’s fishing industries: infections from handling bait, skin cancer from heavy sun exposure and more common health problems that go undetected when fishermen skip medical appointments because the fishing is good.

Rogers grew up on Orr’s Island, the daughter of a lobsterman, and spent three summers hauling and baiting traps. Inspired by her experience, Rogers said her goal now is to improve health care access for fishermen. A medical student at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Maine Track program at Maine Medical Center, she’s teaming up with the hospital to try to set up a mobile health care clinic on the Portland waterfront, probably in a van or RV.

If it becomes a reality, the clinic would offer drop-in screenings and basic health care to fishermen coming off the boats. More than 7,300 commercial fishermen work in Maine, and hundreds are based on the Portland waterfront.

Rogers, 28, said realizing the goal is a few years away, but she will start this summer with a survey to determine the health needs of lobstermen. Once established, Rogers said, she hopes the clinic will become self-sustaining and continue to operate after she finishes school.

Rogers said simply making health care more convenient for fishermen is an important step.

“I know that there are so many missed appointments because when the weather’s nice, the lobstermen will cancel their doctor’s appointments to go out on the water,” Rogers said. “If it’s a good day for fishing, you have to go.”

Basic health care needs often go unmet, Rogers said, and some physicians are not aware of the kinds of health issues more common in fishermen than the general population.

“If you know what the common problems are, you can be prepared for them,” Rogers said.

After the survey is completed, Rogers said, she’s looking to build the resources and network needed to set up the mobile clinic on the waterfront. It could be staffed with hundreds of volunteers working rotating shifts, mostly medical students from Tufts and the University of New England and nursing students from the University of Southern Maine. She also is hoping to recruit professionals from Maine Med and elsewhere who would be willing to volunteer for shifts.

Dr. Tania Strout, research director at Maine Med’s emergency medicine department and Rogers’ Tufts program mentor, said the clinic is a realistic goal.

“This project has a chance to have a significant impact. I love it when these things are meaningful,” Strout said. “This definitely passes the ‘who cares’ test.”

Strout said they will pursue grants to help with fixed costs, such as equipment and medical supplies.

Rogers said she envisions volunteers at the mobile clinic helping fishermen – many of whom don’t have health insurance – sign up for insurance through the Affordable Care Act.

An outreach program through the Maine Lobstermen’s Association attempted to sign up lobstermen for insurance through the federal law, but the association doesn’t yet know how many did so, according to Patrice McCarron, executive director of the association. About 44,000 Mainers signed up for insurance through the federal law.

“The call volume was overwhelming, and we do know there were a lot of success stories,” McCarron said. Still, McCarron said, she suspects the second year will be more successful than the first, as word spreads about affordable plans. Although there are no recent statistics, prior to the Affordable Care Act becoming law, it was estimated more than one-third of Maine lobstermen did not have health insurance, and many of those who did had only catastrophic coverage.

As for a mobile clinic, similar models have worked in the midcoast and Downeast regions to bring care to the fishing community, McCarron said. The Maine Sea Coast Mission brings a boat to various islands along the Maine coast to provide basic health care.

An annual conference also gives fishermen access to some health care. Chilloa Young, coordinator of the annual Maine Fishermen’s Forum held every winter in Rockland, said University of Southern Maine nursing students have helped with preventive screenings for 15 years. Recently, the forum has added skin cancer detection and hearing tests. Loud engines on fishing boats can cause hearing problems, and being out in the sun all day increases the likelihood of contracting skin cancer.

“We don’t charge any money, and I know this service is very valuable for the fishermen,” Young said.

But the Portland clinic wouldn’t solve one common problem: the smell of fish bait.

“You can shower three times and you’re still not getting the smell off of you,” Rogers said, laughing.

Those interested in the survey and potential clinic can call 662-7049 or email Rogers at [email protected]

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

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Twitter: @joelawlorph