If you graduated from AIC sometime before 2012, there’s a good chance you don’t remember too much about Dexter Health Services. You might have gone there at some point because you had a cold, or maybe you needed some aspirin because of a twisted ankle. Or you might not have visited there at all because you didn’t know what services they provided. For many, the facility existed as a functional but largely forgotten resource on campus.
Mary Paquette, MS, RN, FNP has dramatically changed that perception.
Paquette took over as director of AIC’s health services in July of 2012, after previously serving as associate director of health services at Western New England University for fourteen years. Added to this, she has maintained simultaneous weekend positions in emergency medicine, first at Hartford Hospital, in Hartford, Connecticut, and currently at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, Massachusetts.
This work has given Paquette a unique perspective on both the fast-paced environment of emergency medicine as well as the ever-evolving needs of a student population. It’s what has allowed her to transform what had been a basic nursing clinic into a full-featured urgent care center, providing an unprecedented level of service to AIC’s students, faculty, and staff.
So how does one go about overhauling a resource as vital as health services? To begin, you simply get out and let people know you exist.
“In the first two years I was here at AIC, I spent a lot of time reaching out to students through resident advisors,” explains Paquette. “It was really just basic health programming—giving them current health information and letting them know that we were here to help—so that they could turn around and outreach to students.”
As word of mouth grew, Paquette next worked to vastly expand Dexter’s range of services. Today, these include on-site testing for streptococcus, mononucleosis, and STIs; suturing and stapling; caring for minor orthopedic injuries; blood draws; IV fluid hydration; and immunizations and allergy shots.
Expanding these services has also led to further opportunities to support other areas of campus. For example, Dexter now provides on-campus tuberculosis and drug testing for health sciences students, which are required before students can begin clinical rotations. Dexter also provides drug testing and injury care for student-athletes. While some services, such as X-rays, may require out-patient services, Paquette works closely with AIC’s athletic trainers to provide as much on-campus care as possible.
“It’s really a win-win,” says Paquette. “Bringing services in-house reduces billing, cuts costs, and lowers our insurance premiums, especially the premiums for our athletic policy. You always have to think about how each approach you take affects the bottom line. But beyond that, it’s better for the students. They don’t have to leave campus, they can come to a place that they know, and they can see people who they’re comfortable with and who know them.”
Students have definitely responded. Paquette says that when she began at AIC, she would see 8–10 patients a day.
Today, approximately 30 patients come to Dexter for care daily, and on some days that number can reach as high as 50. Though Paquette has been able to bring on a second nurse practitioner, Barbara Donahue, MS, RN, FNP, she says that the increased workload has been a challenge. “My number one wish would be for another full-time nurse practitioner. For the first two years, we were scrambling to get students to come to us, now we’re trying to manage the fruits of that labor.”
While an increased awareness on campus is the primary reason for the higher number of visitors, Paquette notes others factors, including extending Dexter’s services to faculty and staff, which began in 2014, as well as a strong refocusing on customer service. For the latter, Paquette credits the work of her office manager, Mildred Velazquez.
“When I started, I knew that the first person students needed to see was someone who was over-the-top friendly, and that’s Millie,” says Paquette. “She’s been a huge help, not only because she’s the office manager, but because she’s also a medical assistant, so she can be a true first line of care. The fact that she’s a genuine, kind person who truly loves the students ensures that they come back.”
Keeping students coming back to Dexter is particularly important for Paquette, who stresses that helping young men and women better understand all aspects of their care is sometimes as important as the care itself.
“In general, students are a healthy population, but a number of them make some unhealthy decisions. So a lot of what we do is manage the outcomes of those unhealthy decisions. But I feel that another large part of my job is teaching students how to be good healthcare advocates. I want them to leave here with a better understanding of their own health and the tools they need to navigate the world of healthcare.” It’s a tremendous amount of work—a daily grind that can feel overwhelming at times. Paquette, though, says her fondness for AIC’s community and culture makes it all worth it. “Hands down, the biggest difference between students at AIC and students at other colleges is that there’s no entitlement—they’re so appreciative of everything we do. That goes for the faculty and staff, as well. That’s why I do what I do. It’s why I don’t mind coming back to campus after work hours to stitch up a cut and take care of bruises on someone’s head—I know that person is so grateful that someone is there to help them.”
Paquette laughs when I ask if that scenario happens often. “Let’s just say that our entire rugby team knows me on a first-name basis.”
-By Michael Reid
Featured Photo (L-R)
Barbara Donahue, MS, RN, FNP/Nurse Practitioner,
Mary Paquette, MS, RN, FNP, Director of Health Services and Nurse Practitioner,
and Mildred Velazquez/ Office Manaer and Medical Assistant