When Dr. Kohar Der Simonian moved to Maine from the Bay Area a few years ago, she found that she missed the organized, tight-knit community of reproductive health care providers and advocates back in California. While clinicians and advocates across Maine have always provided and advocated for reproductive health care, they face different challenges than those faced by clinicians in geographically smaller, more progressive communities such as the Bay Area or New York City. As such, Dr. Der Simonian joined forces with Dr. Julia McDonald, a New England native, family physician, and longtime reproductive health activist who teaches at the Maine-Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency. Together, they worked with RHAP to launch the Maine Cluster in April of 2017. The Cluster has overcome many of its geographical challenges by meeting in different cities every time, making it as accessible as possible for its members.
“We started the Maine Cluster because it’s a way to connect people in a pretty large state, to foster a community of people who are otherwise practicing in rural isolation from each other, and to promote the reproductive health work that we’re all doing individually,” says Dr. Der Simonian. Cluster members are often the only pro-choice/ pro-reproductive health providers in their work settings, and knowing that a community of like-minded people exists is a source of comfort and inspiration. Others are not necessarily actively engaged in family planning work at the moment, but are committed to learning more and bringing these services to their communities. Members range from physicians to residents to longtime advocates to nurse practitioners and more. The Cluster also serves as a bridge between clinicians and activists; for example, several members of Grandmothers for Reproductive Rights joined the Maine Cluster at their February 2018 meeting!
Since the first meeting, the Maine Cluster has grown and diversified their membership, as well as the content of their meetings. In building the agendas, Cluster leaders keep in mind the varied interests of Cluster members, generally allocating half the meeting to clinical learning and the other half to an advocacy update and discussion. For example, the November 2017 meeting hosted a representative from the Maine ACLU who spoke about the ACLU’s challenge to the Maine physician-only law, followed by a clinical discussion on troubleshooting and managing difficult abortion cases. In February 2018, the Cluster focused on team-building and spent time sharing stories, both from the provider and patient perspective. Moving forward, RHAP is eager to continue supporting Dr. Der Simonian, Dr. McDonald, and all the incredible clinicians and activists across Maine.
If you would like to be connected with the Maine Cluster and/or the Reproductive Health Access Network, please email Senior Program Manager Laura Riker at firstname.lastname@example.org.