As the Affordable Care Act kicks in throughout the state, Peter Doran said he expects his health education students to be more valuable than ever.

Doran, a former University of Maine at Farmington health education professor, was instrumental in making health education a staple at the college level in Maine.

In 1977, he founded the Department of Health Education at the university, and in the following years the health education major spread through the University of Maine System.

While some questioned the move at the time, the 76-year-old Belgrade resident is now being praised for his forward thinking and was recently awarded the Franklin Community Health Network Leadership Award for his work as a pioneer in health education.

“At first, there were lots of people who said ‘You’ll never find jobs for all these people,'” Doran said. “Now there are all these places asking for my students.”

One of Doran’s former students, Gerald Cayer, executive vice president at Franklin Community Health Network, said as the health care overhaul continues to be implemented, the hundreds of students trained by Doran while he taught at Farmington will become even more valuable to the state.

Cayer, who nominated Doran for the award, said the Affordable Care Act is intended to change the health care from a system that reacts to illness to a system that promotes wellness — something he said Doran was passionate about long before the legislation passed. He said the health care reform is supposed to reward health outcomes rather than the amount of medical services given. It specifically calls for expanding community-based programs that support health education, like the Prevention and Public Health Fund and Community Transformation grants.

“He was recognized because of his strides in promoting health education throughout the state, which is increasingly relevant under the Affordable Care Act,” he said.

Health education is as much a part of Doran’s life as his teaching career is, and extends beyond the classroom. He’s done everything from serve on boards to live what he teaches. For instance, he eats raw carrots with every meal, something he learned from his mother as a child and can now rattle off their health benefits.

He and his wife, Lois, also co-founded the Belgrade Regional Health Center, which serves patients regardless of ability to pay.

He also served on a long list of health committees and boards, including the American Lung Association of Maine, Maine Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Committee, Maine Asthma Council and Maine Indoor Air Quality Board.

Doran intended to pursue a doctorate in psychology at Southern Illinois University when a professor told him about the new field of health education and urged Doran to consider the program.

After earning a doctorate in health education, Doran and his wife moved back to Maine, where he worked in rehabilitation-related jobs at the state level.

“Still all the time, I was hoping to do health education, but when I came to Maine there were no opportunities,” he said.

Doran got a job in 1971 at UMF, intending to spend a year to develop a program in rehabilitation services.

While at UMF, he worked with a former employer, Maine Regional Medical Program, now Medical Care Development Inc., to lay the foundation in Farmington for the health education major.

Those running the community health program were trying to come up with a way to attract young doctors to Franklin County to replace the handful of physicians practicing there, most of whom were getting ready to retire.

Doran and officials from the health program hoped to attract young doctors by starting a class at UMF for the doctors to help teach in the new field of health education.

The goal of the class was also to decrease the amount of patients needing medical care from the limited number of doctors in the area, by teaching the residents to be proactive about their health.

“The course was to teach people to take greater responsibility for their own health,” he said.

Residents learned to take blood pressure, read symptoms and to better understand when it’s necessary to go to an emergency room or instead to contact a doctor.

“I think that’s an important part of Affordable Care Act today,” Doran said. “People can take more responsibility for their health, but they have to be taught and have to be taught by people that they respect.”

That course, combined with a $1 million grant, led to the creation of a Department of Health Education in 1977, which Doran directed.

For the next 19 years, Doran placed thousands of UMF students in the health education and rehabilitation services programs in full-time internships with Maine health agencies, and connected the students with full time jobs in health education. He retired in 1996.

“The payoff for me has been the sustaining kinds of changes, the ability for young people to go out and make a contribution and be affective in influencing the public to value wellness, become more fit and change their dietary habits,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252
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