PORTLAND — With Maine’s aging population, the demand for health care workers often outstrips the availability of trained caregivers.

But a new partnership between Deering High School and the University of New England is working to bridge that gap, while simultaneously providing an avenue of future success for the school’s immigrant student population.

Through their joint Health Science Leadership Program, Deering and UNE are providing opportunities for students to explore careers in the health care field, through hands-on learning and exposure to those already working in health care from nurses and physicians to lab techs, radiologists and more.

Kristen Wiegand, Deering’s extended learning opportunities coordinator, said 25 students from all four grades are participating in the eight sessions being offered this school year.

The overall goal, Wiegand said, is to “provide students the opportunity to explore the health care field through hands-on learning and interactions with professionals (in the field).” What’s great, she added is that “this program provides access to a possible pathway for their future.”

Wiegand said the Health Science Leadership Program has been made possible through the Northern New England Diversity Grant Project and the support of The Maine Immigrant Access Network.

During the eight sessions, “Students will have the opportunity to take part in Doc4ADay at Maine Medical Center and attend a simulation lab where they will learn (a bunch of) exciting things,” she said.

Through Doc4ADay students have a chance “to work with Tufts medical students learning how to suture, take blood pressure and diagnose a medical condition with real-life mannequins, Wiegand said.

Wiegand said the students taking part this academic year were chosen through an application process and that all of them had to identify as, or have family that identified as, being immigrants or refugees.

She said each health science learning session is held during early release days, which occur about once a month.

“This is a perfect time for our students to participate (because they’re) not missing time from the regular school day and still have time to be part of a an after school club, sport, or organization.”

“Over the course of their high school career the goal is to provide (participants) with as many opportunities to experience hands-on learning, participate in science and math enhancement activities and learn from nurses, physicians … and other speakers,” Wiegand said.

“This program provides real-world experience … and could help these young (people ultimately) pursue careers in the medical field,” she added.

The expectation, Wiegand said, is that as the population of Maine grows in diversity, the available medical workforce will also reflect that growth.

“This program represents the new population of Maine and could help these (students to) better serve the immigrant population,” she said, as well as better meet the state’s overall increased demand for health care workers.

“The hope is that this program will continue each year with the participating students returning and building upon what they have learned,” Wiegand said. “This is an excellent, long-term program to provide education and support to students that are considering the health science area for the future.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Deering High School in Portland is working with the University of New England to engage immigrant students in learning more about careers in the field of health care science. From left are Melchie Adzeghe-Mengara, Mercia Ckaba Thomas, Sundy Mtoto and Emily Cheung.

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