A rendering shows the planned Alfond Health Sciences Center at the University of New England’s campus in Portland. Rendering courtesy of University of New England

The University of New England’s $93 million plan to move the state’s only medical school from Biddeford to Portland and to increase its size could add more desperately needed doctors to the state’s health care workforce and strengthen Portland’s role as a regional hub for medicine and the biotechnology industry.

The Portland Planning Board last week unanimously approved plans for the Harold and Bibby Alfond Center for Health Sciences – the future home of the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine – at 780 Stevens Ave., on the existing UNE campus in Portland’s Deering neighborhood. Groundbreaking could occur in less than a month.

The 112,000-square-foot, four-story center will consolidate all of the university’s health profession programs at one site. They include not only the medical school, but programs in dentistry, physician assistant, nursing, social work, pharmacy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, dental hygiene and nursing anesthesia.

The center will have “all the bells and whistles” of health care education, with a laboratory, simulation facilities and telehealth infrastructure, UNE President James Herbert said.

Fundraising for the project is well underway and includes a $30 million donation from the Harold Alfond Foundation and $5 million in federal money.

Building permits are still necessary, but approval by the planning board was the last major hurdle for the project, Herbert said. He hopes to break ground Nov. 1, with an estimated move-in date of June 1, 2024.


“This campus is going to be unprecedented in all of New England (by) having this diversity of health care programs on a single geographical footprint,” Herbert said. “It’s going to change how we train.”

As the state’s only medical school, the university has an obligation to address the health care crisis, Herbert said. 

“We are the workforce engine for the health care workforce in the state,” he said, adding that one in three health care professionals in the state is a University of New England graduate.

The 22-mile move to the new facility will allow the school to increase the size of its medical program by more than 20 percent, increasing the capacity of each of the four classes from 165 to 200 students.

Turning out more physicians is imperative, and Herbert said he hopes the new center also will motivate them to stay in Maine. 

“It doesn’t do us any good to train them here and then have them move south to Boston,” he said.



The new Health Sciences Center also will help UNE advance its efforts in interprofessional education – a team-based, multidisciplinary approach to training that’s been shown to improve patient care and health outcomes.

Usually, medical training is siloed, and medical students don’t work in broad teams, Herbert said. Getting doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other professionals to work together may seem like common sense, he said, but that’s not how it’s typically done.

As a result, patients are “often treated like a bunch of disembodied organ systems,” he said.

UNE already has been following the interprofessional education approach. But having the medical school in Portland and eliminating the drive back and forth to Biddeford will allow the university to better integrate various disciplines.

“I want UNE to be the national model for how you do IPE in rural settings,” Herbert said.


By moving to Portland, the university also can strengthen its partnerships with health care providers there, especially MaineHealth, parent organization of the state’s largest hospital, 700-bed Maine Medical Center. It will be just a 10-minute drive.


The proximity will make it easier for Maine Med doctors to participate in the medical school, whether through mentorship, teaching, participation in simulation activities or continuing education in the lab, Herbert said.

Dr. Doug Sawyer, chief academic officer for MaineHealth, said the move to Portland would be a boon for the hospital and the MaineHealth Institute for Research.

“MaineHealth has many outstanding UNE-trained physicians on our staff, and many of their medical students receive hands-on training in our local health systems,” he said in a statement. “We expect that this move to Portland will foster an even closer relationship and appreciate the critical role UNE plays in our region in educating our future workforce.”

The medical school also will team up with other research and education organizations nearby, such as the Roux Institute, in efforts to strengthen the city’s position as a budding cluster of bioscience work.


“The synergies are going to be phenomenal,” Herbert said. “It’s one more piece of the puzzle that will make Portland a high-tech biotech hub.”

Herbert stressed that the school is not abandoning the Biddeford campus. The university recently admitted 850 students, its largest undergraduate class yet. 

“We desperately need space here,” he said. 

The College of Osteopathic Medicine’s current facilities on the UNE Biddeford campus will be used to expand undergraduate and graduate programs in marine sciences, business and entrepreneurship, and criminology. 

The switch also will give the campus what Herbert called a “distinctly undergraduate feel.”

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