Former Governor Paul LePage speaks at a campaign event at the Dysart's on Broadway in Bangor, Oct. 13, 2022. LePage is running for another term as governor. Credit: Sawyer Loftus / BDN

Former Gov. Paul LePage said last week he’s been working on a way to train more doctors in Maine, helping to address a health care workforce shortage in the state.

But the idea he said he’s been working on isn’t his. In fact, it’s already in progress as the University of New England moves the state’s only medical school to its Portland campus and expands its capacity for medical residents.  

At an event in Bangor last Thursday that his campaign billed as a special discussion with concerned residents, LePage discussed bolstering the number of medical residents — medical school graduates participating in training — with little to no detail.

“When it comes to medicine, I have been working with the president of the University of New England, and we’ve figured out a way that we can probably get as many as 30 to 35 new residencies in the medical field in Maine,” LePage said Thursday.

The former Republican governor didn’t share other details, and his campaign did not respond to a request for more information. A UNE spokesperson said growing the number of medical residencies has been a “university priority.”

“That is going to be big,” LePage said Thursday. “And I’m telling you: this is something we have a path to do.”

UNE spokesperson Sarah Delage said the university’s relocation of its medical school from Biddeford to Portland will allow UNE to admit more medical students and be closer to the state’s major hospital systems.

“It’s a university priority to grow the number of medical residencies in the state, and UNE is working on a number of strategies to do so,” Delage said. “President [James] Herbert has spoken with both candidates, as well as legislators, healthcare leaders, and business leaders around the state about addressing this need in order to address the state’s healthcare workforce challenges.”

The move, which UNE has been working on for years, will allow the university’s medical school, the College of Osteopathic Medicine, to increase its class size by around 38 students a year, a number close to what LePage touted in Bangor.

In April, the university announced that it received $5 million in federal funds to help with the $93 million project, which involves building a new 110,000-square-foot facility. Additionally, the Harold Alfond Foundation donated $30 million to the project. As a result, the facility will be named the Harold and Bibby Alfond Center for Health Sciences.

Herbert testified  about health care workforce shortages in Maine before Congress in May 2021 at the invitation of Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont. Collins later requested the university funding in the budgetary process after being in contact with UNE for over a year about the project.

LePage said during his Bangor event that while he was governor, his administration explored funding a medical school within the University of Maine System but it ultimately proved cost-prohibitive.

There have been discussions for decades about adding a public medical school within the system, according to University of Maine System spokesperson Margaret Nagle.

The system came close to having one after the Legislature passed a measure in 1975 that would have authorized the system to move ahead with its creation, but then-Gov. James Longley vetoed it.

Longley said in his veto message that adding a medical school to the UMaine system was too expensive, and that there was no evidence at the time that a UMaine medical school would alleviate Maine’s shortage of doctors in rural areas.

Longley advocated for students to attend out-of-state medical school institutions as a more cost-effective path forward, and he said the state should lean on one of the state’s “private institutions” to fill the void.

UNE’s medical school was founded three years later in 1978.

“As Governor, I want to help the University. However, to add an additional burden involving program and finances could severely hinder the University at this time,” Longley said in his veto message. “There is some evidence already that the time and dollars spent promoting and lobbying for a medical school have hurt the present University program and budget.”

Since Longley’s veto, the UMaine system has worked in other ways to help address a shortage of medical professionals, Nagle said, including through investments in its nursing programs and special programs that allow students training in some health professions to start their coursework at UMaine.

There are no plans to create a medical school within the system currently.

Avatar photo

Sawyer Loftus

Sawyer Loftus is a reporter covering Old Town, Orono and the surrounding areas. A recent graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he's worked for Vermont Public Radio, The...