Maine Medical Center on Saturday marked the upcoming graduation of the latest group of Tufts University medical students who will work at the Portland hospital through a partnership between the institutions.

After their graduation from the Tufts University School of Medicine later this month, 13 students are expected to join the residency program at Maine Medical Center. They are among 36 graduates this year of the Maine Track program established between Tufts University and the hospital 13 years ago in order to encourage more newly minted doctors to go into primary care medicine in rural areas, particularly in Maine.

Additionally, one Maine Track student will enter the Dartmouth Family Medicine Program at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and four other Tufts graduates will work at Maine Med.

To date, 316 physicians have graduated from the Maine Track program, 40 of whom are practicing medicine in Maine. Medical students enrolled in the program work at clinical sites throughout Maine as part of a community-based curriculum and may qualify for $25,000 scholarships.

Dr. Nirav Shah, who has been the public face of Maine’s COVID-19 response as director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, spoke to Maine Track graduates on Saturday during a virtual event. Shah told graduates that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the health care system in ways both large and small.

“Throughout COVID, we’ve built a new set of muscles and we are now actually using that musculature to do new and different things at a large scale,” Shah said.

Additionally, Shah said the pandemic has exposed health care equity challenges that are now getting more attention and that could change the way the graduating students choose to practice medicine or engage in addressing those challenges.

“In this post-COVID world, with telemedicine being a new thing and new modalities of care – whether it’s in the parking lot, in the home or everywhere in between – becoming the standard and opportunities to experiment becoming the norm, my ask for each of you is to ask yourselves, ‘What do I want to do beyond the doctor’s office?'” Shah said. “Beyond the bedroom at the hospital where my patient is being hospitalized? What is the right level of care and engagement that I should be bringing to the the health care system?”

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