The University of New England recently completed a semester-long partnership with Biddeford Primary School (BPS) to provide over 300 vision and hearing screenings for the school’s children.
Health professions students in the Care for the Underserved Pathway (CUP) Maine Area Health Education Center (AHEC) Scholar Honors Distinction program performed the screenings, which the Department of Education requires for students in pre-kindergarten through ninth grade to identify students who may have hearing or vision impairments.
The CUP AHEC Scholars program provides opportunities for UNE health professions students to work with underserved populations in rural Maine communities. The two-year program is funded by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Finance Authority of Maine, and delivered through the Maine AHEC Network, a workforce development program aimed at alleviating health care workforce shortages.
Screenings at BPS were held two times per week from mid-January to mid- February, with one snow date in early March. During each shift, UNE students tested the children for their hearing, near distance vision, and far distance vision. Screeners worked across five stations, allowing two to three classes of BPS students to be screened within a few hours’ time.
The experience allowed 41 CUP AHEC Scholars to receive credit toward the program’s 160-hour curriculum, which is focused on providing community-based service learning experiences. Students hailed from UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, College of Dental Medicine, and School of Nursing and Population Health within the Westbrook College of Health Professions.
“We hope that our partnership with Biddeford Primary School can be expanded to other schools around the state who might also need help meeting the vision and Department of Education hearing screening requirements,” said Ian Imbert, M.P.H., CUP AHEC Scholars program manager.
The screenings would normally be performed by the school nurse, Cassandra Jacques, RN. But with more than 400 screenings required at BPS each year, the task can be challenging. Help from UNE’s CUP AHEC Scholars was a welcome addition, Jacques said.
“On a regular day, I can see as many as 30 kids for regular acute illnesses like stomachaches, bumps, or bruises,” she said. “It can be challenging to provide the same amount of quality time with the kids who need me for acute illness when I’m also trying to perform the vision and hearing screenings. I reached out to the CUP AHEC Scholar program at UNE to see if there were any students who would be interested in helping with the screenings.”
Not only did the partnership help Jacques, it also benefitted students looking to dedicate their careers to caring for underserved populations.
“I have a strong interest in helping diverse and underserved communities, particularly recent immigrant and refugee populations,” said Fides Elamparo (D.O., ’22). “Through various CUP activities, including the vision and hearing screenings, I have had the wonderful opportunity to serve, connect, and collaborate with members of these communities.”