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Portrait of a Partnership: USM and Martin’s Point Health Care

Martin's Point Health Care

The partnership demonstrates USM’s focus on preparing students and graduates for success in high-quality jobs, while helping to provide Maine employers with a high-caliber, sustainable workforce.

In terms of their career trajectories, Mikayla Libby Gilbert and Dr. David Howes stand at different ends of the spectrum.

Libby Gilbert is just getting started. She’s a 21-year-old pre-med student at the University of Southern Maine and works as an intern at Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland. Her goal is to become a doctor of osteopathic medicine.

Howes, a career physician, is president and CEO at Martin’s Point Health Care, the not-for-profit organization he joined nearly 30 years ago. Through its health insurance plans and health care centers, Martin’s Point has grown to serve nearly 200,000 people in the Northeast United States.

But despite the generation gap, the intern and the CEO share the same vision for improving people’s health. And they are absolutely on the same page when asked about the growing partnership between USM and Martin’s Point.

“My internship at Martin’s Point has been invaluable. The people I’m working with are amazing and the work is so applicable to my major,” Libby Gilbert said. “Once they saw what I was capable of, they started to give me more responsibility, so my internship has been a great fit. From my perspective it’s a partnership that works for both USM students and for Martin’s Point.”

Howes could not agree more.

“It is such a nice two-way street. We benefit greatly from the work, tenacity and energy of our USM interns. They have done meaningful work that has helped our patients and health insurance members, while we have provided the real-world experience students are looking for,” Howes said. “We see USM as a vital partner for a highly trained workforce, and as an enormously valuable community resource.”

While the connections between USM and Martin’s Point stretch back many years, the strategic partnership between the two institutions has just come into focus in the last couple of years. Martin’s Point, a member of USM’s growing Corporate Partners program, launched a new internship program and job shadow days last summer for USM students.

The partnership demonstrates USM’s focus on preparing students and graduates for success in high-quality jobs, while helping to provide Maine employers with a high-caliber, sustainable workforce. Here are the highlights:

  • Mikayla Libby GilbertNew Internship Program. As a result of their positive experiences with USM, Martin’s Point designed its first-ever internship program. Six USM students were hired as interns in the summer of 2017, and some have already transitioned into year-round employment. The program expands to 10 interns this summer.
  • New Health Care Job Shadow Days for USM students each semester. These day-long events provide opportunities for students to see the wide array of clinical and administrative possibilities within the broad field of health care. Job shadow days have been popular with a range of students: those early in their college careers, those who work full time and do not have time for an internship, students nearing graduation, and graduate students.
  • Board Involvement. George Campbell, former president and CEO of the USM Foundation, served for many years on the Martin’s Point Board of Directors. That relationship led to Teresa Nizza, chief HR officer at Martin’s Point, joining the USM Foundation Board. Now USM and Martin’s Point are looking for other opportunities to engage their leaders on other USM program or departmental advisory boards.
  • Sharing Expertise. Martin’s Point HR professionals with a focus on LEAN/Six Sigma process improvement have volunteered to help streamline and improve the university’s internship processes.
  • USM Works for ME Alumni Gatherings. Martin’s Point hosted USM President Glenn Cummings at a gathering for USM alumni and other employees with a tie to the university. The first event included more than 40 attendees. Even Howes was surprised at how many members of his team had a USM connection. A second USM Works for ME event is being planned at Martin’s Point for employees this fall.
  • On-Campus Engagement and Philanthropy. Martin’s Point is active in USM’s Corporate Partners program; the organization sponsors USM alumni events and career fairs; and many individuals within Martin’s Point are volunteers at and donors to the university.

Building a strong internship program

When Nizza joined the USM Foundation Board two years ago, she started considering the possibilities for how her organization could partner with USM. That led to many conversations with Cummings, as well as Campbell and Ainsley L.N. Wallace, then vice-president of the USM Foundation, now president.

Nizza had wanted to establish an internship program since joining Martin’s Point in 2011. But in a busy health care organization, she was wary about adding yet another responsibility to employees.

“We hadn’t been able to find an educational partner with the right resources and ease of administration so that we could make sure students were appropriately vetted and matched, but that it wouldn’t be burdensome,” Nizza said.

Wallace suggested piloting a program with a small cohort of interns. She reached out to Professor Rebecca Nisetich, director of USM’s growing Honors Program, to help identify the high-achieving students who would thrive as interns at Martin’s Point. Nizza said the first group of interns exceeded the lofty expectations placed upon them.

“The enthusiasm, thirst for knowledge, and desire to contribute were clear right away,” Nizza said. One of the interns’ major tasks was to reach out to Martin’s Point patients about the importance of preventive health. Collectively, the interns communicated with more than 500 patients, many of whom scheduled screenings.

Steve Amendo, vice president for marketing and community engagement at Martin’s Point, agreed that the first year of the internship program was a great success. He credits the organization’s diligent efforts to make sure that USM interns were engaged in meaningful projects, rather than busy work. They will expand those efforts for the 10 new students who will join Martin’s Point this summer.

“USM students bring a high level of energy and fresh perspectives,” Amendo said. “We have heard over and over from people throughout our organization how much they appreciated that.”

Jobs for USM grads through growth, succession

Through job shadows, internships, and other areas of partnership, one clear goal of this collaboration is to prepare USM graduates for successful careers within the Martin’s Point organization.

Based in Portland, Martin’s Point operates six health care centers in Maine and one in New Hampshire. It also serves health insurance plan members in northern New England states, New York and Pennsylvania. With more than 800 employees, most of whom work in Maine, and an annual revenue of around $800 million, Martin’s Point hopes to continue its trajectory of modest growth.

In addition to new jobs created from growth, Martin’s Point will also need to replace employees as they retire or shift into job-sharing or part-time roles. When they heard that more than 75% of USM alumni live and work in Maine after graduation, Howes and Nizza were convinced that USM would be a strategic partner for building a long-term talent pipeline.

“We’re always looking for talented employees, whether they be doctors, nurses or medical assistants for our clinical roles, or in other parts of the organization such as insurance, IT, finance, marketing and HR,” Nizza said.

“In my role, I’m interested in keeping students in Maine. Many want to stay but they lack opportunities. The challenge is, how do we create those? How can we match USM students and graduates with opportunities here at Martin’s Point? I think we are heading in the right direction,” she said.

“We definitely see USM as a pipeline for talent. Ideally, we want to bring someone in as an intern, establish that relationship, and hopefully they will want to work here after they graduate.”

Steve AmendoReal-world connections

Libby Gilbert, the aspiring osteopathic doctor and Honors Program student, graduates from USM in May. A native of Sidney, Maine, she would like to continue working for Martin’s Point as she moves into the gap year between USM and medical school. In fact, Martin’s Point is helping her make that transition into medicine. Already, Libby Gilbert has job shadowed three physicians and has received offers for help with her medical school recommendations, as well.

Most of all, Libby Gilbert is proud of the role she has played in preventive health outreach to Martin’s Point patients over the past year. Starting with outreach for colorectal cancer screening, she has also encouraged patients to schedule breast cancer and bone density screenings. Recently, she has been speaking with patients about the importance of annual physical exams, which have been shown to improve health outcomes.

“I adore my co-workers and the work environment. It has been an awesome mix of clinical and administrative experience,” she said. “Just day-to-day, being in a medical practice and seeing what goes on, it’s totally different from being in a classroom. Both environments are important for students.”

Howes, the Martin’s Point president and CEO, said there are endless ways for USM and Martin’s Point to collaborate in the future, particularly in the areas of health policy and community education.

“We are a community not-for-profit that needs a trained workforce, and also, to an ever-greater degree, is concerned about the social and economic determinants of health,” he said. “So, for us to interact closely with USM is an enormously beneficial way to multiply our forces and create a stronger, healthier and more vibrant community. That is what gets us up in the morning.”

Howes is also enjoying a personal connection to the university. His son, Luther Howes, is attending USM and plans on majoring in the biological sciences.

“He’s having a fine academic experience in his biology, chemistry and math classes. He’s been challenged, but he’s also been well supported at USM,” Howes said. “USM was a great choice.”

 By Trevor Maxwell for USM Connects