PORTLAND, MAINE >> Maine Medical Center is leaning on the power of plants to grow a crop the state could always use more of — doctors.

A new preventive medicine residency program at the hospital hopes to build up the number of doctors in the state who are dedicated to helping Mainers avoid disease through practices like healthy eating, lifestyle modification and early detection of health problems.

It's the only one of about 70 preventive medicine residencies in the country to put a special focus on "plant-based medicine," said Paul Bonta, associate director of the American College of Preventive Medicine.

The plant-based portion of the program is focused on health and nutrition. Program director Dr. Christina Holt said the program will partner with community groups that incorporate nutrition strategies into their work. The program will also work with food growers on research projects and collaborations that can serve public health.

The ultimate goal of the program is to train doctors to bring disease prevention and healthy living to vulnerable communities in Maine, such as rural residents and the elderly, Holt said.

"Helping them to be leaders in preventing and healing at a population level. Supporting our health and wellness and not just trying to treat the maladies as they occur," she said are goals.


The two-year residency program, which is open to doctors who previously completed a residency in another specialty, launched this month with its first resident — Dr. Christina DeMatteo, an internal medicine specialist — getting started. Future years will have two residents, Holt said. Participants in the program will be able to earn a master of public health degree and board certification in preventive medicine.

Preventive medicine public health programs aren't without critics, some of whom question whether they are cost effective. A 2009 report issued by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation stated that "availability of an inexpensive, effective treatment for the targeted disease will make the cost-effectiveness of prevention less favorable."

Bonta, however, said the creation of a residency program that draws on wellness and healthy food is "in line with the growing interest we've seen nationally in disease prevention and preventive medicine."

Maine Medical, which is the largest hospital in the state, received a federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant of up to $950,000 over three years to launch the residency program. It is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education.